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.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When is Large not Large Enough!

When it involves two contradictory stories on tourist traffic in the valley

Following land transfer row staff retrenchment takes place in tourism sector - Tourist traders not able to pay salaries to employees

Afsana Rashid (Daily Khidmat)

Srinagar:Once upon a time the tourism sector used to provide jobs to the unemployed youth of Kashmir valley and the sector used to contribute towards the economy, but of late a disturbing trend has emerged thus giving sleepless nights to Kashmiris as a whole.

With staff-retrenchment in tourism and allied sectors already set in, effects of Amarnath land unrest seem harder to get rid of.

Complete lull prevails in the tourism sector here since June 23 when the agitation against transfer of 800 kanals of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) started.

Despite the deal struck between the authorities and the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti (SAYSS) last week, the tourist traders as well as associations apprehend that aftermaths might affect their bread and butter in the next season as well.

“Tremendous retrenchment in staff has already begun. We are not in a position to pay our employees. It has affected us badly,” said Siraj Ahmad, senior vice president Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant Association (KHARA).

“There has been a complete lull in the Srinagar city since June 23 and our hotels are completely vacant,” said Ahmad. “Kashmir is burning and the government is giving superficial figures not based on truth,” said Ahmad. He added that Kashmir issue has to be solved first and then the tourism will follow.

Ahmad said that up to June (before agitation), tourism was flourishing. “It was going on very good scale. Had the same situation continued, there would have been overwhelming rush of tourists to the valley,” said Ahmad.

Disputing the number of tourist arrivals made available by the government from June-August, the tourist associations claim the figures to be exaggerated. According to them, there is nominal presence of tourists in the valley and specific measures need to be taken by the government to revive the position.

M. Azim Tuman, President House Boat Owners Association (HBOA), said that the present position of tourists in the valley has trickled down to absolute zero. “This time we have no tourists here. It’s journalists who are coming here as tourists,” said Tuman adding, “We apprehend the situation to be same up to ending 2009.”

Habibullah Mir, former president KHARA while talking to this newspaper said, “We are mentally disturbed and don’t know what to do. We are trying to ensure that we pay the salaries of our employees first.”

He said that the situation has been same throughout valley be it Gulmarg, Pahalgam or Srinagar. “We have to feed the employees and give them their salaries so that they can continue on with their job. It is concerning us at this point of time,” said Mir.

“The main questions this time are revival of tourism sector in the valley and if at all tourists would come next year,” said Mir adding, “We have been suffering losses every year since 1989.”
When asked about Confidence Building Measures that might help to improve the situation of tourists in the valley, Tuman said these are nothing more than “Confusion Building Measures”.
“Government should sponsor teams who should be sent outside the state to revive the tourism sector here. We should be taken into confidence before arriving at any conclusion,” said president HBOA.
ejecting the figures given by the government, he said that daily tourist arrivals in the month of August never reached to 320. It’s not the correct figure.

“When the tourists were leaving the valley after Amarnath land row HBOA set up free langar (free kitchen) to the tourists for three consecutive days on Tang Bagh-Boulevard road. Even free accommodation was provided to them. Despite that what happened in Jammu especially in Samba (where the tourist bus was attacked), the flow of tourists to the valley declined,” said Tuman.

Rejecting the official claims about the number of tourists present in the valley since June–August, former president KHARA said the figures are exaggerated. “We were expecting boost of tourists this year. Around 10–12 lakh tourists were expected by the end of this year,” said Mir.
Mir said that they were expecting tremendous boost of tourists in September-October this year. “But our hopes are shattered now. Media needs to help us out by providing right facts and figures and helping people to understand the whole scenario,” said the former president KHARA.
He added that specific measures needed to be done during the whole winter to ensure tourists next year. Explaining the specific measures he said, “Teams have to be sent outside the state and we need to tell them that tourists were not harassed, but were kept as guests, which remains a fact as well.” Asked if they would like to accompany that squad, Mir replied in positive.

Describing the figures put forth by the government as “exaggerated” senior vice president KHARA, said, “I don’t know how the government has collected these figures. The situation has been grim right from June 23 till the moment. It is absolutely not the correct figure and just yesterday we had a meeting over it.”

He too apprehended the future of tourism in the valley. “I don’t think tourism is going to revive in future. There is complete lull so far as tourism is concerned and the same might continue in future. I don’t know what its impact would be in the coming year,” said Ahmad.

According to the official statistics, valley witnessed one and a half lakh tourists in June that came down to 51 thousand in July and 11 thousand in August. Besides, the available figures show 6500 as daily arrivals in June and 320 in August.

Drawing a comparison between the corresponding years, the statistics show 13 lakh of tourists registered in August last year and just eight lakh this year.

Tourists in Valley register 97 percentincrease, despite strikes, curfews

Shabir Ibn Yusuf (Kashmir Times)

SRINAGAR: Despite more than two month long agitation over Amarnath land row tourism officials claim that tourist' arrivals in valley registered 97 per cent increase up to July.

In August, the number was equal to the number of tourists visiting the valley during a day in peace times. A senior official of tourism department said that over five lakh domestic tourists visited Kashmir valley this year up to July 25, which is 97 percent higher than corresponding figures of last year.

The official attributed the increase to revival of the tourist industry in the state.However a middle rung tourism official said that during the month of August only a nine thousand tourists visited the valley. "Earlier five to six thousand tourists used to visit valley each day," he said.

Tourism industry witnessed revival in the sector after the sanction of loans in favour of the houseboat owners in 1998 and 2004 under state package and prime minister's employment package. He said the number of house boats registered is 1200 and further registration has been banned.

The senior tourism official said the conservation of Dal and Nageen lakes warrants that the number of house boats be feasible. He said that to meet the demand for construction of dry docks for repairs; the Department of Tourism has already released Rs 20 lakh to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA). He added that the issue of rehabilitation of families living in kitchen boats and wooden sheds likely to be affected by the realignment programme is being addressed by LAWDA.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive plan has formulated for promotion of eco-tourism in valley.A K Srivastav, Chief Wildlife warden said, "A comprehensive action plan has been formulated for promotion of eco-tourism in the state keeping in view its tremendous potential." He said that the Wildlife department in collaboration with Karnataka Tourism Department will impart training and capacity building to staff, tour operators wildlife guides, bird watchers and the locals involved in management.

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