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Tourism policy neglected

All Governments in the State have acknowledged that the State has considerable potential for developing tourist industry manifold than what it is at present.  By and large, this concept rested on the high potential which Kashmir valley enjoyed from the times of the British rule over India. Establishment of Gulmarg and Pahalgam as premier tourist destinations was essentially the brainchild of the British rulers. The golf club, house boats, coffee house, regatta and many other manifestations of tourist industry were located in Kashmir and not in any other region of the State. Dogra rulers also continued to subscribe to the taste of the British rulers and never focused on building tourist potential either of Jammu or Ladakh region. This concept has been in place after the attainment of independence and if we trace the policy and performance of the Department of Tourism of our State. This phenomenon will become self-evident. It was only when Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammd became the Chief Minister that the idea of expanding tourism to Jammu and Ladakh region began to make rounds at the Tourism Department.
Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had floated the vision of Comprehensive Tourism Policy to develop Jammu and Kashmir as a dynamic, sustainable and most favoured tourist destination. During his tenure, he pursued the idea and ordered constituting a Tourism Advisory Committee which was to draft the Comprehensive Tourism Policy.  The broad features of the comprehensive policy were to develop and expand tourism industry in a manner so that J&K becomes a model of advanced tourism in the country for internal as well as external tourists. When we say comprehensive, it naturally means a number of components that make up the industry viable and sustainable. It means roads, hotels, motels, clubs, entertainment, hiking, mountaineering, regatta, skiing, golf, restaurants and a number of other facilities. It would also mean international air service and dependable road connectivity. The Tourism Advisory Committee met and considered the draft of policy framed by the Department of Tourism. However, the Committee did not proceed with its mandate and the matter was almost relegated to the back burner.  It is now nearly two years that the exercise had begun but could not come to any conclusion. The net result is that the Department of Tourism remains contented with what it is having today and runs its affairs with usual budgetary provisions.
The fact of the matter is that no service is done to tourism by just wishing things and not struggling to have these translated into practice. It makes little sense in saying that we have huge tourist potential because we have impressive manifestations of nature like mountains, rivers, glaciers, lakes, wide pastures etc. It also means little to claim that we have world famous tourist destinations. The real thing that matters is the facilities which a tourist is able to enjoy when on a pleasure trip to J&K. We hear some officials and ministers making a loud claim that Kashmir is the Switzerland of Asia. This is only an exaggerated and self-satisfying claim without any truth in it. Those who have been to Switzerland as tourists and have enjoyed the hospitality and facilities of Swiss tourism will simply laugh at such a meaningless claim. As said above, taking tourism to the highest standards of industry and on international level presupposes vast upgrading of available infrastructure. Building the requisite infrastructure takes its time besides funds. Above all, there is the need of planning and execution. The Government should immediately come up with Tourism Policy to make J&K a leading global destination.

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