Tourists Need Phones, Internet Too

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Shikaras parked on the Dal Lake in Srinagar amid shutdown.

Two months after giving tourists and Amarnath pilgrims just 24 hours to leave Kashmir, the state government has lifted the advisory on the visitors to the Valley from Thursday onwards. According to the principal secretary Rohit Kansal, security restrictions have been withdrawn from almost the entire Valley. And this is an acknowledgement of the situation having substantially improved in government perception. However, the communication blockade continues across Valley. Only least subscribed broadband service is running. And this has drastically hampered the social engagements. The reality is that the Valley has remained shut for more than two months. Bazaars remain closed in the day, even though the private transport has largely been plying unhindered. Trade and tourism has been crippled with the business leaders pegging the loss so far at around Rs 10,000 crore.

Similarly, the education has been worst affected. Schools are shut and the children are confined to their homes. No doubt, the government has reopened schools and now the announcement of reopening of the colleges has also been made but no students have turned up. And it is unlikely that the children will go to school in near future. The reason for this is that the situation in the Valley for all its apparent normality hasn’t improved at all. Other than private traffic nothing moves in Kashmir.

Tourism has been the worst hit. It is one of the pillars of Kashmir economy. Thousands of people associated with the trade have been rendered jobless. If the situation since February is any indication, nothing is going right for the Kashmir tourism and in turn the state’s economy. As the beginning of the year started bringing tourists back to Valley, an escalation in India-Pakistan tension following Pulwama bombin sent tourists packing and dissuaded people planning to visit to defer their programme. Although by June, the situation had improved a great deal and the tourists had started returning to the Valley, the revocation of the Article 370 put paid to a promising season. In less than two days, Kashmir was empty of all the visitors. This has hit the traders hard. And if the situation goes on like this for the months to come, it will deal another big blow to Valley’s economy after the one inflicted by the unrests of recent years.

But mere lifting of advisory by the government will not do. It has to be urgently followed by the subsequent steps like restoring of mobile phones and the internet, at least the broadband to begin with. But this is something that the government has been shying away from doing. This is unlikely to work. For the removal of advisory to succeed, the government has to precede it by restoring phone and internet service.


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