Stone pelting to G20

Prof M K Bhat
The journey of Kashmir from stone pelting to hosting G-20 tourism working group meeting in itself conveys a lot about the transformation after the abrogation of article 370. Kashmir had become synonymous with hartals, stone pelting and terrorist activities, this had a negative impact on its main industry i.e. tourism. Today the change is evident and Kashmir is on its way to achieve new heights through tourism.This is apparent from more footfall of tourists and it is expected to get further boost by the bold decision of union govt to hold its G-20 summit in Kashmir despite opposition from Pakistan and China. The Union Territory of J&K will be holding its first international summit post abrogation of article370 at Srinagar.
India after getting presidency of G-20 in Dec, 2022 decided to hold 215 meetings over 55 locations and Srinagar is one of them. This has irked countries like China and Pakistan because it will expose their propaganda. Pakistan on its part has urged Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA and China to prevent the meeting and is continuously trying its best to disturb peace in the valley. The recent terror attacks in Poonch and Rajouri are a case in point. The Government of India too does not want to take any chance with security, it has resorted to multi-tier security of Army, Border Security Force and village Defense Committees have been activated along international border and line of control, besides frisking, checking at entry points in J&K. Srinagar is being brightened to host the meeting at Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Center located on the banks of Dal lake. It is going to be renovated at a cost of Rs 7.5 crore for digital infrastructure and internal and exterior decoration. Fifty delegates are expected to arrive in Kashmir and they will go to Baramulla, Dachigam National Park and Ski resort of Gulmarg for sight scenes.
The first tourism meeting of G20 was held in Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. It focused on rural and archeological tourism via tours and side events. The second meeting was held in Siliguri, West Bengal featured on adventure tourism in the area. The third meeting is going to be held in Srinagar from May 22 to 24,2023 with an aim to boost film tourism in Jand K. It will go a long way in removing the wrong perception about the situation in Kashmir. It will develop confidence of people and may help tourists to understand Kashmir better. It is a chance for Kashmir to rise to the occasion by exhibiting its market prospects, ecotourism ventures, and cultural assets to the leading global nations.
The importance of tourism for the economic development of J&K can hardly be ignored. According to Economic Survey 2019-20 report, service sector mostly tourism has emerged as the biggest contributor to the State Gross Development Product (SGDP) of Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is among the 10 states and union territories where service sector’s contribution to SGDP is more than 58 per cent especially due to tourism. J&K ranked number eight with its service sector contributing 58.3 per cent to the state’s Gross State Value Added (GSVA) as millions of tourists are visiting J & K every year.
It may be pointed out here that for the first time in history of Jammu and Kashmir, a record 1.88 crore tourists including 20,000 overseas travellers, visited the union territory in 2022.With the launch of the new J&K film policy in 2021, the UT has emerged as the favourite shooting destination for film industry and permission has been granted for shooting of more than 150 films and web series in less than two years. It is without any question that 2022 was the best year ever for the tourism industry. The Jammu and Kashmir administration is expecting 15-20 per cent year-on-year growth in tourists visiting the Union Territory in 2023 and has developed 75 new destinations to reduce pressure from the popular places mostly visited by tourists.
The G20 meeting will not only promote tourism of the union territory but may also expose the propaganda of Pakistan and China in post abrogation of article 370.It will convey the actual position of Kashmir to the world. Pakistan ever since 1947 tried to grab Kashmir forcefully but failed every time in its attempts and even its proxy war was declined by the people of the Union territory by participating in elections after elections. In 2019 when article 370 was abrogated Pakistan took it as an opportunity to defame India, so raised the issue in various forums but could not muster enough support from any country/organization to pressurize India. Pakistan has never been a well- wisher of Kashmir rather it always tried to exploite Kashmir for its own interests. Its claim for the good of Kashmiris for being Muslims carries no meaning because of its involvement in cross border terrorism, smuggling of drugs in Kashmir and thereby wants to annihilate the future generations of Kashmir. Had it any sympathy for Kashmiri’s for being Muslims it would have raised the issue of Ulgir Muslims with China. It has only unleashed a campaign of lies in various international forums against India on Kashmir issue.
It is not only enemy countries but a miniscule section of people within valley, which thrived on the disturbances in Kashmir, too does not like to see transformation. They want to keep things boiling. They oppose abrogation of article 370 because it provided them an ample space for an open loot. In fact, such people don’t want average Kashmiri to grow because the poverty/illiteracy of people helps them to serve their own interests
The summit will market Kashmir globally and thereby will increase employment and income of the Union Territory.It can make a good market for Kashmiri handicrafts, cuisines, winter sports etc. The effect on its economy will be multi fold if we can get more visitors from the developed countries. Countries like USA, UK, Germany and France have in the past designated Kashmir as no go zone area due to disturbances. The G-20 meeting will go a long way in removing this impression from their minds. Kashmir can be easily promoted for film tourism, religious tourism, cultural tourism, adventure tourism besides scenic beauty.
Tourism industry provides good opportunity for investors to invest in building of hotels and restaurants at tourist places like Dal lake, Pahalgam and Sonamarg. They bear a great potential to yield high profits as millions of tourists visit these places every year and face accommodation issues especially during peak tourist season. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir supports the investment in the tourism sector and welcomes Multinational National Companies (MNCs) to invest in it. It has given several contracts to different companies to establish parks and amusement parks at places like Nishat Bagh, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam. Recently a Chinese company was given a big contract to clean Wular Lake to attract more tourists.
Tourism is a lifeline for the welfare of people of Kashmir on the one hand and on the other much of it still remains unexplored. It is no doubt that G-20 meet will act as a catalyst in this direction provided there is peace.
(The author is Professor (MAIT) Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi)