No ‘Industry Status’ for Tourism

Govind Sharma
Tourism, which is considered today as a major tool of economic development round the globe and in the recent decades has proved its potential by emerging as the fastest growing industry, has always been neglected by the successive State Governments in Jammu and Kashmir. It can be gauzed from the fact that though Tourism Sector was declared as Industry by the State Government in 1995 vide Government Order No 72/TSM of 1995 dated 26.04.1995 yet no Industrial benefits were ever extended to this Industry, which is the backbone of the State’s economy.
Also known J&K is among the most important tourist destinations of the world. All the three regions of the State Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are well known for tourism potential all over the world. It is estimated that almost 50-60% of total population of J&K is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism related activities and Tourism contributes about 15% to Gross Domestic Product of J&K.
Tourism holds a strategic place in J&K economy by providing economic benefits like employment, foreign exchange, infrastructure development and development of local industries like handicrafts and handlooms which has placed J&K always in the limelight at the national as well as international level.
Importance of Tourism in J&K economy is known for decades now and its role in economic development has been an area of great interest from policy perspective. Tourism has played an important role in the employment generation from past with a great potential to increase it further in the coming decades.
J&K possesses lot of tourist attractions in the form of pilgrimage, leisure, heritage and eco-tourism with enormous scope to transform the whole economy as a tourist driven economy by providing jobs through trickling down effect. Being a labour intensive industry, its scope in employment generation is vast and the level of investment required here is low as compared to the other sectors of the economy.
Tourism in J&K is a multi-segmental industry by providing different types of jobs like hotel managers, guides, tour operators, chefs, etc which further strengthens the J&K economy by increasing income and standard of living of the people.
No doubt the Pakistan sponsored terrorism in the State has adversely affected this important sector in last few decades but negligence of successive State Governments towards this industry which has the potential of making the State self dependent by strengthening its economy, cannot be ignored.
Since 1995 when the Tourism Sector, was declared as Industry by the then State Government, no Government made an honest effort to give industrial benefits to this Sector, which other industries are availing. This attitude of successive Governments in the State has pushed J&K tourism to lowest level where as other tourist related states like Rajasthan, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, etc, which were nowhere in picture as far as Tourism is concerned and were much behind J&K, had surpassed it in just last few years.
Sharing his views, president, Hotel and Restaurant Association Katra, Rakesh Wazir said, “The tourist destinations of State attracts more than 2 crore tourists including pilgrim tourists every year, but  the State Government instead of giving attention towards this sector is altogether even ignoring and neglecting it”. He said that in the year 1995, the Tourism Sector was declared as industry but the benefits of industry as are prevalent to other industries like subsidized power, exemptions in sale tax, excise etc were not provided to it and that the SRO too when  it expired in March 2015 has not been renewed till today where as industries SRO are renewed immediately when it expires”. He said we humbly urge the Government for renewing the same and extending all benefits which are provided to industries be provided to Tourism Industry as well at the earliest.
Expressing resentment over State Government’s indifferent attitude towards Tourism Industry, president, All Jammu Hotels and Lodges Association, Inderjeet Khajuria, said that it is unfortunate that tourism Industry, a vital sector of economy which provides livelihood to more than 5 Lakh souls in the field of hotels, transport and other tourism related trades in Jammu, has been deprived of benefits/incentives available to SSI/MSME.
He said Tourism industry of which Hotel industry is the main sector makes a significant contribution to the State Gross Development Project (SGDP) and therefore the Government should give serious thought for their upgradation, infrastructural improvement and providing them soft loans and sufficient incentives.
Khajuria further said that as the current Industrial policy has expired and the new Industrial Policy is in the offing, therefore it is suggested that the new industrial policy should bear uniformity for all the industrial units and there should be no discrimination. He further submitted that the instances like SRO 72 of 2003 which  debars Jammu, Katra and Patnitop from availing benefits/incentives and were placed in negative list, should not be repeated.
One of the members of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association, Firaj Ahmed also accused the Government of denying ‘industry’ benefits to tourism sector. He said Tourism Industry is the only industry which has the potential of high growth and addressing the unemployment issue in the State. Therefore, the Government should bring Tourism Industry into special category. “If Government supports Tourism Industry it can do magic in reviving the economy of the State”, he said but expressed disappointment that till now, Government made only hollow promises and did nothing on ground to provide infrastructure and develop tourist spots. He further stressed that the sectors affiliated to the tourism industry in the State need to be re-categorized and reclassified as infrastructure/priority sector.
President, All Tour Operators Association, Anil Gour said that Tourism is the biggest employment generator in the world and has been acknowledged even by the UN committee on employment as such. Its ratio of providing employment is 1 is to 9, which means that each Tour Operator/Travel Agent gives a direct and indirect chance to 9 other persons to earn their livelihood. He said that no other category of work has such a high ratio.
“In J&K the Tour & Travel Operators have always been the brand ambassadors to portray that there is complete normalcy in the State and induce visitors to come here to spend their holidays on their personal assurances but ironically the vast tourism potential of Jammu region has always been neglected by the successive State Governments, which have always proclaimed that J&K is a Tourism State and this sector being the largest employment generator”, he rued.
Gour said that the Tour & Travel Operators, who form the backbone of the Tourism Industry, are required to be included for all other benefits like soft loans for the purchase of Office Automation Equipment and purchase of Luxury cars for taxi purposes, 100% subsidy on purchase of Diesel Generating sets and Invertors up to 15KVA range, Electric tariff on the same rates as the Manufacturing Industry instead of Commercial tariffs being charged, Income Tax exemption as available to manufacturing industry, etc, as available to the Hotel, Transport & other Industry connected with the tourist trade.
Condemning the negligent attitude of successive State Governments towards Tourism Industry, President, Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Jammu, Rakesh Gupta, said in last 10 years the number of tourists visiting the State has gone down just because of Government’s apathy, which failed to provide proper infrastructure, roads and connectivity to many tourist places and developed many historical places in Jammu region which if developed properly might attract a large number of tourist from all over the Country.
He said that it is difficult to understand why the State Government is ignoring this important Industry which has the capacity not only to address the rising unemployment issue but also boosting the economy of the State.
Gupta said since 1995 when the Tourism Sector was given the status of Industry, no benefit except some sort of relief in power tariffs was given to Hotel Industry which is the most important constituent of Tourism Industry while they (hotels) are deprived of other benefits like toll relaxation on import of infrastructure items, as are being availed by the manufacturing industries.  He said that Tour Operators, which are also the important constituent of Tourism Industry, are already suffering due to opening of many new train routes to many tourist destinations in the State. They should also be given the financial assistance to upgrade their transport system and also relaxation in toll in the State by the Government.
Director, Tourism Department, Jammu, R K Verma, when contacted for his comments on this serious issue, declined to comment on the issue, saying he cannot comment on the policies of the Government, as his duty is to implement the policies of the Government which he is doing very well.



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