Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, May 26, 2008

SASB Must Ensure Economic Spinoff for Locals While Minimizing Damage to Environment

Editorial in Rising Kashmir reminds Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) that locals in the Pahalgam area need to benefit from Pilgrim Tourism

Ignoring locals: Pilgrim tourism must have an economic spin off for locals

Pilgrim tourism has of late received considerable attention and is being promoted by the Sate government with full gusto and force. The recent row over the tourism business getting hit in Pahalgam again points out to the biased handling of Tourism sector by the government.

The deputations of traders, hotel associations, ponywalas, citizen council, beopar mandal and taxi union of Pahalgam have been running from pillar to post on issue of frisking and security arrangements in view of the ensuing Amarnath Yatra. Even educational institutions and locals have been advised to avoid picnic trips to this world famous health resort. Given this situation the business at this picnic spot is bound to suffer .

The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has also been playing a negative role in development of business for the local populace there. The board supplies tents and other requisite things to persons who undertake yatra thereby competing directly with the business of all the sections directly involved with tourism industry. SASB has been time and again commending people for their cooperation but on ground it does little to benefit the local economy. Allotting parking area to local or management of housekeeping of prefabricated shelter huts here and there or engaging ponies and labour class does not mean involving local economy in naïve sense of the term.

If SASB really intends to benefit the local economy then establishments dealing with handicrafts, hotel, lodges and all those connected with tourism need to be actively involved and brought into loop before the start of yatra. The yatra has more negative externalities involved than the positive ones leaving aside the ill effects to the environment.

The state departments also incur expenses on account of yatra and there have been instances of huts getting damaged during the yatra. The annual yatra attracts more than 3 lakh yatris and the waste disposal from these many persons is bound to affect the ecology and environ of this famous trekking place. There have been apprehensions raised from non profit organizations, civil society and environmental organizations about destroying of some of the most important water bodies and the natural settings.

Tourism of any form in J&K is recognized as one of the vital sectors and regarded as major engine of growth at least that is what official documents and policies spell. Further the industry has segmented into leisure, adventure and pilgrim tourism. The industry generates not only financial benefits but also community benefits and countries and regions with tourism potential are taking advantage of this. The case of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage which generates economic activity of Rs 470 crore annually where on an average 5.79 lakh yatris visit is a case in point.

It is more than important to have an economic spin off of tourism to locals with environmental protection at the core.

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