Tourism in India is important for the country’s economy and is growing rapidly. The World Travel and Tourism Council calculated that tourism generated 16.91 lakh crore (US$240 billion) or 9.2% of India’s GDP in 2018 and supported 42.673 million jobs, 8.1% of its total employment. The sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 6.9% to 32.05 lakh crore (US$460 billion) by 2028 (9.9% of GDP). But our own Jammu and Kashmir does not appear even in top ten states in number of domestic tourists despite the fact that we have around footfall of one crore seventy lakh at Jammu itself. Reasons for not featuring in top ten states are not hard to find out; lack of development of alternative tourists destinations in addition to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi as such we are not able to tap even 5 % of those coming for pilgrims to alternative tourists places. Despite having separate Directorate office of Tourism reasons for this are not hard to find; scarcity of funds and focus. While Director Tourism Kashmir has been sanctioned events/publicity budget allocation of 2.26 crores, with last year liabilities of around 23 lakhs, Tourism Leh one crore, Tourism Kargil one crore and both theses two also come under Director Tourism Kashmir but for Director Jammu only 1.38 crores has been sanctioned with a whopping pending liability of almost 78 lakhs which means practically 56% of sanctioned budget will go in clearing the liabilities, where is the scope of meaningful events by Director Tourism Jammu?
Another interesting thing is the practically Tourism Department has three different departments, Director Tourism, JKTDC and Development Authorities like Patnitop Development Authority and others. State of affairs can be judged by the fact that out of 24 Development Authorities functioning in the State only 10 have full time CEOs while the others are running on crutches as their charge has been given to CEOs of other development authorities or senior Government officers. Another glaring mismanagement can gauged by the fact that though established for promoting tourism in Jammu region the Development Authorities are having offices far away from the actual places with skeleton staff only. Mess at Director Tourism level is no less as whatever huts or other infrastructure is available with Director Tourism Jammu, they are either gutted or outsourced or handed over to local development authorities or to trusts or to JKTDC or to Cable Corporation or under maintenance or tendering in process. JKTDC is mainly having existing huts, cafeterias with practically no power backup, skeleton kitchen staff, lack of professionalism of the staff as such not up to the mark hospitality services in this competitive world. No further augmentation of existing facilities by JKTDC makes the thing further complicated e.g. though Gandola Cable car has been made operational, thousands of tourists visiting but still no new JKTDC infra to accommodate the tourists flux. Patnitop Development Authority is equally responsible as no effort has been made to improve infrastructure, no maintenance of roads- no further sanction for hotels, resorts, no plan to protect environment from the litter as such it seems collecting entry fee seems to be the only area of interest of PDA. Same is the case at other places with no vision, no roads and pathetic infrastructure in place.
Three major projects have been proposed to give Jammu Tourism a flip: improvement/up gradation of Ragunath Bazar, Recreational Park at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu and Pilgrimage Circuit of Khoon Temple-Chountra Mata -Sukarala Devi-Mata Bala Sundari. With the upcoming bus stand cum multilevel parking Raghunath Bazar has been proposed for total facelift to tap its tourist potential to full. Amphi theatre for live morning and evening ‘Aarti’, light and sound show, a musical water fountain with laser show are the major attractions proposed in the Raghunath Mandir itself. Underground electric supply, telephone cables, new footpath with designer flooring, new drainage covered with steel grating, special semi dense bituminous concrete road, bio toilets, water ATMs, road cleaning van, signages, dust bins and CCTV, traffic free zone with battery operated cars, a prefabricated RCC covered corridor on both sides for pedestrians to safeguard from rains and scorching heat. Total estimated cost of whole project is 14 crores, DPR has been made and submitted but final approval is awaited.
Keeping in view its proximity to main city, close to Tawi Bank and Amarnath Yatri Niwas a Recreational Park has been proposed at Bhagwati Nagar at an estimated cost of 73 crores. It will have musical fountain with glass gallery, main block with offices, ticket counters with lawn, walk ways, convention centre, water body with fountains, kiosks, battery cars, road cleaning vans, bio toilets, multi level car parking for hundred vehicles, landscaped area, open gym, water ATMs, view points, souvenir shops, rehari zone, solar illumination, plantation, CCTV, Wi-Fi connectivity. Land is already in possession of Director Tourism, Jammu, whole project is to be financed by Ministry of Tourism, DPR has been made and submitted but final approval is still awaited.
Religious Tourism is an important part of local development as it yields maximum profit with less investment, activates local employment in the shape of entertainment, accommodation, catering, guide to name a few as such another proposed project under Swadesh Darshan is Khoon Temple- Chountra Mata- Sukrala Devi- Mata Bala Sundari Circuit. Each of this religious place has its own significance with beautiful scenic locations and not too far away from Jammu the central point of pilgrim tourism.
Khoon Temple, Majalta (Udhampur) is 68 kms on Jammu-Samba-Mansar-Dhar Road-Khoon. The place is directly in link with Mahabharta’s Arjun who was killed by his own son Babar Vahan and to make him alive again he got Mani from Sheshnaag by making ‘Surang’ (tunnel) with his arrows, now known as Suriansar and after getting Mani came out at Manisar (now Mansar). The blood stains of Arjun are still peeping out of some wet stones resting on water and hence name Khoon. Proposed development work at Shiv Temple Khoon includes water bodies/waterfalls, souvenir shops, yagaya shala, last mile connectivity, biotoilets, solid waste management, landscaping, temple premises and CCTV surveillance system at a total cost of approximately 3.6 crores.
Chountara Mata, Ramnagar ( Udhampur) at a distance of 86 kms again on Dhar Road. The existing temple of Mata Chountra has three stone idols depicting Nagraj, Sanhrajand Chountra Mata. Proposed development works include shelter sheds, view points, last mile connectivity, landscaping and pathways, bio-toilets, community hall/kitchen, solar illumination, drinking water points, CCTV, parking at an estimated cost of 3.6 crores.
Sukrala Devi at Billawar (Kathua) at a distance of 125 kms from Jammu via Dayala Chak-Billawar- Sukrala Mata situated at a height of 4000 fts having scenic view of mountains and cliffs around it. Proposed works include multi level parking for 100 vehicles, heavy vehicles parking, souvenir shops, bio-toilets, solid waste management, gateways, temple premises, landscaping, pathways, tourist information centre with bhojnalaya, last mile connectivity, drinking water points, CCTV at an estimated cost of 10.85 crores.
Mata Bala Sundari Temple at Billawar (Kathua) at a distance of 117 kms via Dayala Chak-Phinter-Bhini Bridge- Mata Bala Sundari. It’s 1000 mts above sea level with trek of around 5 kms to reach the temple. Proposed works include parking, pathways from road to shrine, kiosks, biotoilets, solid waste management, viewpoints/shelter sheds, shrine development, landscaping, restaurant, drinking water points, CCTV at an estimated cost of around 8 crores.
Total cost of this entire pilgrim circuit is around 26 crores, DPR has been made and submitted but final approval is still pending. Cumulative cost of these major tourism projects is 113 crores and has major impact on development of entire region. But the fact is despite being in the constituency of PMO, files are stuck up in ‘Bureaucratic Hurdles’; who is sitting on these important project files? what are the reasons? why unnecessary hurdles? why doubting DPRs of our own state agencies, where is the need of reconsideration? why in ordinate delays? Questions are many but no answers. Why every single project of Jammu region gets entangled in forest land or environmental issues. Reasons are obvious but right now with BJP Government at Centre and state directly under President’s rule no excuses are acceptable. Most amazing part is that all these projects are under Centrally Sponsored schemes as such no problem of finance but still delay in transforming dreams into reality is simply inexplicable.
Why all Jammu projects remain constrained to mere announcements, photo sessions and newspaper headlines but practically nothing on ground due to official apathy. It’s really serious situation as Jammu public has voted BJP for development in recent LS elections and had given bounty of 25 MLAs to BJP to end regional discrimination but there is never ending lists of projects entangled in the bureaucratic mess which include AIIMS, Metro, River Front, Gandola, Mubarak Mandi, Flyovers, Water lifting scheme from Chenab to name a few and last five years have not seen much development on all these projects. We hope the state administration wakes up from slumber and clear all hiccups to give much needed flip to Jammu Tourism. Few young enthusiastic KAS officers of Jammu Tourism department are doing their best to organize promotional events even at international level like road show at Malaysia but obviously lack of co-ordination among three agencies along with lack of infrastructure makes it quite difficult to have the desired impact even on National Tourism Circuit. Will the new dispensation take the culprits to task and clear all pending projects or Jammu will keep on facing discrimination, only time will tell.