Liquor to boost tourism in the Valley
It must be a strange coincidence! At a time, when the Centre is hoping for a better solution to the Kashmir issue, with the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as the interlocutor, it also hopes to boost tourism in the strife-torn state, with a well-decked liquor shop at Srinagar International Airport. With a significant turnout of at least 50 potential players in the bid to run the duty-paid liquor shop at the airport, it is now certain that all the famous and good quality liquor brands will be available for sales, to cater to the needs of some 3500 passengers coming here every day, from January 1, next year. It may be noted that Kashmir has remained ill from the viewpoint of tourism, in the last few years, due to the prevalent rise of violence in the trouble-torn Valley. The government has high hopes that, by providing this facility, they can attract the attention of more tourists. However, no consumption of liquor would be allowed at the airport. Notably, despite inviting the tenders to open the liquor shop, the authorities have not yet addressed the issue of safety and security of the tourists. Around three decades ago, liquor vendors were closed in Kashmir after 'Allah Tigers', a militant outfit, issued a fatwa (diktat) on its sale and consumption. Soon after, an armed insurgency erupted in the region. They had even ransacked the liquor shops, forcing all of them to close down instantly. In 2009, when liquor baron Vijay Mallya had proposed to restart the cultivation of hops - used in the manufacture of beer - in Kashmir, it was shot down by then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who had said, "religious sentiments of people" were important. Abdullah's response followed a huge public outcry over Mallya's plans. Muslim clergy and moral vigilantes have been on a mission to stop the consumption of liquor in Kashmir, though the sales figures are an indication of their failure. Seen as a preferred tourist destination in the Indian subcontinent –Kashmir has shown the need for good quality liquor. But then, liquor continues to be equally tabooed in this only Muslim majority state of India. And, the conservative forces including social and religious organisations have been fighting for a complete ban. Some of the groups had even moved court with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a ban on liquor sales in line with the states like Gujarat and Bihar. Now, the million-dollar question is, will the bottle finally come out of the closet in Kashmir? It does seem so, as liquor sales are heading north in the Valley, notwithstanding a ban proclaimed by the terrorists. One can hope that the bottles would give the tourism sector an opportunity to breathe a little easy.