Srinagar: The closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway due to heavy snowfall during the past week resulted in sky-rocketing of airfares to and fro from Kashmir Valley.
Kashmir remained cut-off from rest of the world for five consecutive days. Valley is connected to outer world through arterial Srinagar-Jammu highway and a lone airport in Srinagar, however, during inclement weather the air routes too remained affected.
Valley witnessed its heaviest snowfall in last two-and-a-half decades past week. The only land route was closed on last Tuesday and opened last Sunday.
This led to a surge in demand for airline tickets, which resulted in an astonishing increase in passenger fares for flights operating to and from Srinagar airport. Tickets for flights to Jammu, less than 30 minutes by air, went up to several thousands.
The surprising-steep increase in air rates has crossed those to outer world from India. This became a hot issue being debated on social media with many Kashmiris pointing out that it was cheaper to fly abroad than to Jammu.
However, members of the tourism industry have regularly expressed concern that high fares for Srinagar-bound flights had a negative impact on tourism, and demanded government intervention to ensure affordable fares.
This is unfortunate, said a trade leader, Muhammad Yasin Khan. J&K government should take up the issue of air rates with union government.
The tourism sector witnesses heavy footfall during winters if the Srinagar-Jammu road remains open and air rates remain low.
He said that the steep rise in air fares has affected the already burdened Kashmir economy. You see, we have suffered a lot during 2014 floods and then, valley remained shut for four months in 2016.
Noted civil society member and industrialist, Shakeel Qalander, blasted the government claims of development. The civil society has always raised such important issues, which has adversely affected our tourism industry, he told the Kashmir Observer.
He said that the civil society sees a design in it. Every institution, be it government or Public Sector Undertaking, is anti-Kashmir, Qalander noted. There is a design in sky-rocketing of air fares to divert the tourist flow to other destinations which I would not like to name here. We have seen it happening even before 1990s.
Besides, he said that the negative portrayal of Kashmir by the mainland India based media has led to this cause. It is bizarre that Delhi-Srinagar air ticket is Rs 35k and a ticket from Delhi to Dubai is less than half of it.
Accepting that the sky rocketing of the air fares has affected the Kashmir tourism badly, Commissioner Secretary Tourism, Farooq Ahmad Shah, told the Kashmir Observer from Jammu that the J&K government is in constant touch with Delhi to negotiate the issue. The chief minister has shot second letter to union civil aviation ministry on Monday asking it to maintain air rates on Srinagar route, he informed.
Shah said, We (administration) would like the union government to start from its own airlines (if private airlines do not take lead).
On January 18, the state government approached Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju to flag exorbitant fares on routes in and out of the Valley, and asked Delhi to direct airlines to maintain reasonable fares.
However, uncertainty in aviation guidelines leaves little scope for government intervention in the civil aviation sector, which was opened up to private players in 1990-91.
It (restrictions on pricing) used to be there earlier with the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation), an official told the Scroll.in. In the DGCA there is a provision for what they call excessive and predatory fare which the DGCA is supposed to regulate. But what is excessive and predatory pricing is not defined.