Destination Kashmir

AT 8,960 feet, Gulmarg, Kashmir’s wonderland of snow, is teeming with tourists.  According to the tourism department, the occupancy of the hotels in the famous hill resort has steeply gone up. With international travel continuing to be barred if not banned, Kashmir has become the preferred destination for the tourists in the country. More so, in the winter when unlike the most parts of mainland India, it snows in Kashmir. Other tourist resorts and Srinagar is also witnessing tourist rush. November last, as per tourism department figures, witnessed the second-highest number of monthly tourist arrivals to Kashmir at 1.28 lakhs. Over 6 lakh tourist footfalls have been recorded in Kashmir this year so far.  These are glad tidings for the sector.

Things are likely to look up further with India’s economy recovering fast from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.  That is, if the new virus mutant Omicron doesn’t usher in yet another nationwide wave. India, according to the latest projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is poised to grow at 9.5 percent in 2021 and 8.5 percent in 2022. In 2020, India's economy had contracted by 7.3 percent following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, India’s projected growth is way ahead of that of the global economy which is forecast to grow at 5.9 percent in 2021 and 4.9 percent in 2022 respectively.

Mercifully, in 2021, Kashmir economy was able to recover some of its losses. In 2020, the Valley’s economy suffered grievously. According to an estimate by the local business bodies, the Valley's economy suffered a loss of over Rs 50,000 crore. Its fallout on the ground was grim. Sectors of the economy like tourism, handicrafts, hotel industry, IT, transport etc were crushed. People were forced to shut down their old unviable businesses and start new ones. Here’s hoping that the recovery continues. Double-digit growth is what is needed to lift the lakhs  of people out of poverty and bring lost jobs back.

Tourism is one of the mainstays of Kashmir economy. And the return of tourists to the Valley in large numbers is a positive development. Sounding a note of caution though, tourism in Kashmir is not only about whether the pandemic is on or gone. The security situation is a factor too. While the Covid-19 lockdown may have been responsible for infrequently shutting the Valley off over the last two years, the security situation too has not been good.

At the best of times, the situation in the Valley remains uneasy and uncertain. And sometimes a big local event could make the region a site of geopolitical tension just like the Pulwama attack did. Truth is that while tourism is a boon for Kashmir it needs a peaceful environment to thrive, something that the Valley has lacked for the past thirty years. And considering the ongoing state of affairs, fundamentally the situation remains the same.

So, while we look forward to a bountiful tourist arrivals in winter, it is important that the state of siege that has more or less prevailed since the repeal of Article 370 in August 2019 is lifted. And this siege is not about the lockdown or the frequent denial of the internet and phones but about the political uncertainty and unpredictability.

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