Millennium Post

Tourism in Valley after 370

Post bifurcation, development opportunities abound for the new Union Territories, particularly in tourism

Tourism in Valley after 370

On August 5, 2019, the Central government made the historic decision of abolishing Article 370 and 35A resulting in the removal of special rights that Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed under the Indian constitution. The State of Jammu and Kashmir has been bifurcated into two Union Territories (UTs). One of them is Jammu and Kashmir with an assembly at par with the status of Pudduchery UT. The second one is the Ladakh UT without an Assembly making it at par with Andaman Nicobar UT. As per Notification number S.O. 2889(E) dated August 9, 2019, this arrangement will come into force with effect from October 31, 2019.

Both UTs shall be governed under Article 239A of Indian Constitution by one Lieutenant Governor who will be a Representative of the President of India and working under the supervision of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The status of UT of J&K shall not be at par with National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, which, given its status as a national capital, enjoys more financial powers as compared to other UTs.

Legal angle

Legally speaking, there is no direct relationship between this historical abrogation and the development of tourism in J&K. The exception being that after removal of the special status of J&K state, Indian investors from outside J&K may legally buy land in the state and create infrastructure which is necessary to give impetus to tourism.

Tourism is generally treated as a 'peacetime activity'. From 1950 to 1990, Kashmir valley had reasonably good tourism turnout. Hundreds of Bollywood films have been shot there, popularising various destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Patni and Srinagar as iconic destinations.

In recent years, with terrorism on the rise due to outside support, the Valley witnessed a low domestic and foreign tourists' arrival with 2018 marking a low point (just 8.5 lakh annual visitors). Besides this, other development activities were almost at a halt in recent years and this may be one of the main reasons that Central government had to resort to abrogation of said article in the state. The Central government seems to be determined to make plans for overall development in the area. This may be gauged from discussions in cabinet meetings for implementation of central schemes in the state alongside the steps needed for normality to return to the Valley.

Safety and Security of Tourists in J&K

The most important factor for boosting tourism in the Valley is to provide safety and security for tourists. The direct intervention of Central government, the presence of paramilitary forces alongside minimal interference from separatists and local politicians having vested interests may work as 'confidence-building measures' for common people living in and visiting the Valley.

Tourism stakeholders' views

Many stakeholders have commented positively about the prospects of overall development in the newly constituted UTs. As per print media reports, the travel and tourism industry welcomed the Centre's move to make the two regions separate UTs but it will be a long road ahead in terms of development. The representative of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) welcomed the government's move because "Almost 50-60 per cent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly and indirectly, engaged in hospitality and tourism or related ancillary activities." It was added that "this move of the government will bring in more investment in all sectors i.e., industry, private and public educational institutions, construction of roads and last-mile connectivity to approach tourism destinations."

There will likely be a shortage of hotel rooms as tourism arrivals will increase. This may be taken care of by encouraging 'homestays' or 'BnBs' with more incentives and simplified regulations.

UT of J&K Scenario

Positive impacts on tourism in this scenario will depend upon ensuring synergy between the UT elected government and the Central government. It has been clarified that 'Tourism and Hospitality' matters fall in 'transferred subject' under Transaction of Business Rules of the UT of J&K and will be under control of the elected UT Government. Unless both UT and the Centre work in tandem, the fast development of tourism and hospitality will be a distant dream. It is also likely that the elected government in UT may not have the same political ideology as the Centre. It may become a blame game between the UT government and the Centre as was recently witnessed between NCT of Delhi and the Centre. However, cooperation here is logical as both the UT government and the Centre will stake their reputation in this matter.

If Centre's resolve is to be given credit, solid, visible steps will be taken to implement the old and new schemes pending in the J&K Draft Tourism Policy which had till now only been on paper. As per the decision of the Centre, 1000 crore is the amount kept for developing J&K. These funds can now be utilised under the direct supervision of Central government through the LG who in turn will get the bureaucracy to show results.

The Valley requires appropriate infrastructure like roads, industries, institutions for skill training and education, tourism amenities and last-mile connectivity with huge financial funding by the public as well as private sectors. By bringing normality to the area, tourism will automatically get an impetus as the Valley has huge natural potential. There are also certain invisible obstacles in the utilisation of Central Funds, as pointed out by some IAS officers of AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and UTs) Cadre. It has been pointed out that the Indian government must assess the capability and positive attitude of its own officials sitting in Centre, whether they are capable of visualising aspirations of locals for fulfilling the political will of the Centre and the UT.

UT of Ladakh scenario

The tribes in Ladakh presently have limited means of livelihood, poor roads, lacking telecom and internet connectivity, undeveloped markets for their produce and low employment opportunities. The proximity of the India-Pakistan-China border also makes its people more vulnerable.

Now, it will all depend upon the political will of the Centre as to how much importance it gives to tourism development in Ladakh region. It may develop its own tourism policy, as had been done in case of the UT of Andaman Nicobar Islands. Homestays in Ladakh could be a wonderful opportunity to give thrust to tourism by attracting tourists who wish to stay with locals and enjoy the cultural exchange.

One of the former J&K bureaucrats recently mentioned that the LG will have powers to administer the Ladakh UT in the name of President of India. Ministry of Home Affairs is the administrative authority for matters related to Ladakh. Under the elected government of J&K, Ladakh and even Jammu were being completely ignored for development and state funds were generally utilised, or for that matter, mis-utilised for Kashmir only. The MHA, LG and the Chief Secretary will decide on issues related to tourism and hospitality based on the financial budget provided to this UT.

Way forward

Given the popularity of film shooting locations, 'Film Tourism' will likely continue to be niche tourism with an eye on 'High-End Tourism' as a policy. At the same time, Homestays/ BnBs, especially in rural areas, need to be encouraged in the UT of Ladakh. This concept is to be integrated with a tourism management plan for J&K as tourists may like to experience local traditions and authentic local cuisines. The new regime should give significant incentives like financial subsidy / interest-free loans and exemptions from GST for homeowners who wish to create BnBs or homestays in their existing homes. There is also a need for the creation of some kind of tourism police establishment with the participation of local residents as special police officers and Guards to provide personal safety of guests near tourist places, airports, railway stations, bus stations, taxi stands, etc.

Formation of tourism monitoring and implementation committee

There is a difference between allocating funds through central packages and the actual implementation of the same on the ground. If all stakeholders synergise their efforts with the Centre, the development of tourism will certainly take place in the Valley. The need of the hour is that the Central government should constitute 'Monitoring and Implementation Committees' in all the important sectors like urban infrastructure, PWD, tourism, MSME and Skill Development, etc. The 'Tourism Management Monitoring and Implementation Committee' under Lieutenant Governor of J&K and Ladakh may comprise of following stakeholders from Public and Private Sectors: LG of UT in chair, Chief Secretary, Joint Secretaries from MHA, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Skill Development, representative of NITI Aayog, Secretary of tourism UT, MD Tourism Corporation of UT, two representatives of All India Tourism Federations, two Experts of the UT and one academician from a university.

There may be quarterly meetings to monitor and implement tourism schemes after finalising tourism policy separately for UT of J&K and Ladakh.

(Dr G G Saxena is a retired IAS officer of AGMUT cadre, an expert in Tourism, Infrastructure, Skill Development and Legal domains. Views expressed are strictly personal)

GG  Saxena

GG Saxena

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