Author: Saadut
•8:47 PM


‘Liquor shops should reopen in Kashmir to boost tourism industry in the state’, which is what was advocated by a main stream politician recently in Srinagar. On expected lines within Kashmir soon there were voices against this statement, but more surprising was the fervor shown by Indian media and people on social networks to grab the bait and customize the issue. Many claimed banning liquor was ‘against secular and democratic credentials’ while others termed it as religious extremism. Journalist @tavleen_singh went even a step further tweeting ‘How sad for Kashmir that it has become the centre of such intolerant Islam. It once was a place where women prayed in mosques.’ Were people like her trying to bake their bread in the controversy or are they really ignorant about the facts in Kashmir? Not only are women in Kashmir still praying in Mosques, have an equal place in Kashmiri society but they are also the most traumatized of all, in decades of conflict having lost husbands, sons and fathers to this turmoil. What was the relationship that these experts were trying to forge between demands for ‘ban on liquor’ and ‘women praying in mosques’ in Kashmir? Incidents of women campaigning for ‘prohibition’ in Punjab or rural Maharashtra have not been linked till date to any ‘conservative religion’ criticism or declaration of ‘democracy in danger’ by these social champions.


Liquor and cinema were never banned in Kashmir. In fact even during the turmoil years, two cinema halls were operational in Kashmir, ‘Neelam’ cinema in the heart of Srinagar and ‘Broadway’ theatre near the cantonment area, but most people avoided these places out of personal choices. In addition to the prevalent sense of insecurity looming large in Kashmir during the turmoil, where days folded up early and evenings were full of lurking danger, people were more concerned about securing their safety at homes rather than daring to venture out. Also these cinemas were seen as likely soft targets for violence. For all the years that it continued to operate in Kashmir, not able to sustain the show biz business model here, ‘Broadway’ theatre shutdown and changed the line of activity. This was purely for commercial reasons, rather than for any ‘nationalistic’ or ‘religious’ containment.


For those who were suggesting that ‘resistance of locals to opening of liquor shops in Kashmir’ had to do something with religious intolerance, such pathetic thought pointed to their mental fatigue. Liquor was never banned in the state and many liquor shops still exist in Srinagar. In mainland India prohibition is in place in Gujarat but we are yet to hear these experts point out to ‘prohibition in Gujarat’ as a result of religious intolerance or seen as a ‘threat to democratic and secular credentials’. The ‘prohibition’ not notwithstanding, fact is that Gujarat recorded 1.8 crore tourists in 2010 which included 3.2 lac foreign tourists. The government of Gujurat understanding the needs of tourism sector planned to spend Rupees 635 crore for developing related infrastructure over the next three years, setting targets of 2 crore tourists this year, including 4 lac foreign visitors. Incidentally the share of tourism revenue in the GDP of Gujarat was only about 1 per cent. In comparison, the tourist arrivals in Kashmir Valley this year had almost surpassed its pre militancy records of seven lac including almost 21,000 foreigners (some estimates put the figure at one million). Clearly J&K does not have a ‘tourism’ investment policy in place; in fact this June the chairperson of FCCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), during a tourism conference held in Srinagar urged the state government to come up with an ‘Investment Policy’ in J&K. The local industry has been pleading with the government since long to improve tourist infrastructure and resume many events in Kashmir, like the ‘sound and light show’ of Shalimar gardens, but not much headway has been achieved on this front till date. Of late the tourism sector in Kashmir has started showing significant resurgence, but this revival would fail in its tracks for want of required infrastructure and policy initiatives.  Contrast this to the fact that natural spots have been vandalized by unplanned and reckless constructions, arterial approaches that need upgradation and environmental degradation that is playing havoc with these natural resorts. In fact the authorities had turned such a blind eye to illegal constructions and forest grabbing in these hill spots that it took the High Court to impose a ban on constructions in Pahalgam in response to a PIL (Public Interest Litigation). 

With crippling infrastructure across the valley you don’t expect tourism to turn around by just wishful thinking. It surely needs more practical work on ground than any political speak. When you think of Kashmir what comes to your mind, lofty peaks, gushing rivers, clear lakes and blooming meadows. How many tourists conjure images of pubs and bars when they think of Kashmir? None I think. Kashmir is all about nature, but what has been left of these bounties of nature? The rivers are polluted downstream, constructions invaded right upto the river banks upstream, meadows collapsing and ever shrinking, the lakes dying a slow human engineered death.  The jewels of Srinagar, Dal and Nigeen lakes have succumbed to decades of human invasion and bureaucratic greed. It is these assets of the valley that drew tourists over centuries and it is here where the state has utterly failed. Years of half hearted efforts and billions of rupees for lake conservation could achieve nothing but accelerate the death of these water bodies. With unabated encroachment going on and thousands of tones of sewage dumped directly into the lake, the Dal Lake is reported to have shrunk from 25 sq kms to 10.56 sq km and its depth has decreased by four meters. In the interiors of the lake and more obvious towards Ashai Bagh Bridge, the government has left the lake to its own death with absolutely no conservation or cleaning efforts by the authorities. So much for the rhetoric of drawing tourists to Kashmir. And if Dal & Nigeen were no exceptions to rule, other lakes of Kashmir like the Wular and Manasbal are also staring at extinction.  When these attractions are gone, no amount of pubs and bars in Kashmir will be able to draw any tourists. What the tourism industry in Kashmir needs are sustained and honest efforts for conserving nature and rebuilding infrastructure that supports the industry. Approach roads that get choked by a slight increase in traffic, a national highway that blocks with a sudden sneeze of nature and an airport  that takes more hours to clear the drop gate than it takes to fly to Delhi are surely not ‘tourism friendly’. Incidentally the double laning of Pahalgam - Khanabal road started earnestly during the Chief Ministerial tenure of PDP’s Mufti Syed has still not been completed, 3 governments having changed since. No wonder traffic to Pahalgam struggles and snarls for miles on holidays. Not to speak of the two laning of Srinagar city, Dalgate – Zakura road (which also takes the traffic of Amarnath yatris on the Sonamarg route) that has been pending for decades in spite of clear plan earmarked for the same. The condition of other tourist places in Kashmir is surely no better.


Some years back I was travelling to Delhi and the then CM of Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad happened to travel in the same low cost airline to Delhi (Yes the CM was not using the state aircraft here, in fact was travelling economy class). While he was seated with his wife in the first row, I was seated in the second row. As the plane touched down in Delhi and Mr. Azad prepared to leave the aircraft he turned to some tourists who were seated in the front rows on the other side, greetings were exchanged and the visitors honestly replied ‘Kashmir gaye th’e Dal dekkhne, dekha Dull lake’ (We had gone to Kashmir to see the Dal lake but all we saw was a Dull Lake). Their emphasis on ‘dULL’ conveyed it all.   The dullness seems to have since spread to other natural spots of Kashmir too with the government inaction and apathy accelerating their erosion.


Kashmir needs to secure these natural bounties; it is a protected and rejuvenated nature alone with adequate supporting infrastructure that can sustain the local tourism industry.


When the tourists start marking their itinerary by the liquor joints available in Kashmir, it surely will mark the death of destination Kashmir. Then the natural ‘Paradise’ will exist no more.




9, November 2011
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3 comments:

On December 22, 2011 at 6:23 PM , Siva said...

well written post.. i ve never been to kashmir but could feel the damage done..

 
On June 8, 2012 at 5:33 PM , Mutahhar said...

Beautiful.

 
On September 6, 2012 at 12:55 PM , indianist said...

wow what a nice place Kashmir in India, I want detail of tourist destinations Kashmir in India places to visit pls mail meee.....