Recently there was an incident when a lady owning a show room on Gulmarg road refused to allow some Kashmiris to enter it. There was uproar from various organisations including the Chamber of Commerce about this colonial attitude of the lady. Well, it may be a stark incident of discrimination and all of us may feel outraged but it is just a tip of the iceberg of what has crept into our daily thinking about Tourism. There is always an unending refrain from politicians supported by a very vocal lobby about Tourism being the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. This myth created by politicians has been shattered many a times by expert economists who have clearly demonstrated that Tourism does not even contribute 8% of the Gross Domestic Product of the State. No doubt being a service oriented industry, it provides employment to not more than 2% of the population and that too on a seasonal basis. No one can deny its role in generating employment even though on a temporary basis. As stated in these columns, the primary requirement for development of tourism is permanent “Peace” which has been eluding us for a long time now! The brief spells of calm and serenity off and on cannot be taken as permanent peace. Kashmir continues to be a conflict zone and in spite of our best efforts, Tourism will continue to have an uncertain future.
Even if we concede that it is most essential for the well-being and economic development of the state to give priority to Tourism sector, it must be made clear that for our own good, we should not tag all our activities to it. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in all our developmental sectors and other activities. Every time people talk about conservation and protection of environment like restoring Dal Lake, the Tourism angle comes in. The concerned departments also make it a point to have the Lake cleaned along the most frequented Boulevard Road as it is used by tourists. The Lake may appear shinning and clean from the Boulevard to tourists but its real health depends upon the status deep inside where over 50,000 people live in permanent houses built on islands reclaimed from the Lake. The miles upon miles of floating vegetable gardens and the sewers going directly into the Lake have to be dealt with severely rather than the portion adjacent to the Boulevard. Tourists may come or not come but the people of Srinagar have no choice but to live around the Lake which has been the throbbing heart of not only the city but of entire Kashmir.
The same is the case with roads, drains, and garbage collection in the city. All the areas frequented by tourists are given preference in regard to civic facilities. The local population gets second preference. It has been observed that our planners while preparing plans for various facilities always take a plea in support of these being used by tourists. This has created a slave mentality and we act as serfs for the hospitality and entertainmentof outsiders at the cost of our own people. There is lot of hullabaloo regarding recreation facilities. Take for instance the Tulip Garden. We have scores of Gardens including famous Mughal Gardens. Almost 20 crores were invested in setting up the Tulip Garden for the recreation of tourists even though it is next only to the stinking and dying Dal Lake. The bloom hardly lasts two weeks or so. It was fancy of a former Chief Minister who dedicated it to his mentor! The same money could have been channelled into development of commercial floriculture which would provide gainful employment to our youth.
For past sometime there is a craze about setting up of Golf Courses and Cable Cars. Again hundreds of crores have been spent on setting up of Golf Courses in different parts of the state. One would like to question these planners whether any survey has been done about the clientele expected to use these facilities and contribute substantially to our economy or it is again a fancy of some of our young politicians? Cable Cars are announced to be built in every nook and corner of the valley. Basically the aerial transportation is meant to be used for accessing remote places at higher altitudes not approachable through normal means. These are also used during winter to approach higher altitude to allow skiers to use different types of ski slopes. Here, these are being planned and set up in all places as tourist attractions. These do not improve or enhance the environment and ambiance of a place but rather denigrate it due to setting up of steel towers and drive stations. Again one would like to ask if any requirement survey has been done or its utility for a particular area has been established. Or these are again fancies of the politicians to placate their vote banks? Here, one is tempted to quote a saying about democracy. “Democracy is a balloon filled with hot air. When it rises, fools watch it and the clever pick their pockets”!
It is time that our politicians and the planners come out of the “Tourism Mania” and plan and execute the most essential things as per requirement of the general population and not as per the fancy of the tourists. This can be done without lowering the importance of tourism as an important supplement to the economy. If world class facilities are set up honestly and sincerely in all spheres of activity these would, apart from the local population be readily available to tourists also. It needs to be remembered that Kashmir is not only for the tourists but is a home to a lively and vibrant local population famed all over the world for their hospitality!