Valley operators allege nexus in chopper tickets for Amarnath pilgrimage

Valley operators allege nexus in chopper tickets for Amarnath pilgrimage

Iqbal Kirmani
Srinagar: Valley based tour and travel operators have demanded a high level investigation into the alleged bungling in the distribution of chopper tickets for the on-going Amarnath pilgrimage. “A CBI inquiry should be done to ascertain how chopper tickets are being sold by the two helicopter-providing companies and their agents and some Jammu based tour operators at whopping prices,” President Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir Rauf Tramboo said.
Rauf was speaking at a press conference here, where President Tour and Travels Interest Guild Mohammad Akram Sia also alleged that the authorities were ‘hand in glove’ with the two companies providing chopper services. “Why do only two companies, Global Vectra Helicorp Limited and Pawan Hans Limited, always bag the contract for the services and Valley-based service providers never succeed when tenders are invited by the board,” Akram asked.
Interestingly, the police had registered a case (under FIR No 5 and under section 420/467/468/RPC) on July 21 against Global Vectra Helicorp Limited after allegations of forgery of almost 50 helicopter tickets by the company.
The tickets, according to Valley-based tour operators, are sold at rates as high as Rs 10,000 to pilgrims even as helicopter ticket rates are fixed at Rs 3,900.
Akram alleged that the companies’ agents were providing ‘easy tickets and early flights’ to passengers but at higher prices and also that “the nexus involves various Jammu, Delhi and Mumbai-based tour and travel operators who work in tandem”. He also claimed that they (Valley-based operators) had on several occasions tried to meet the Governor of the state, who also is the Chairman of the Amarnath Shrine Board, but were unable to meet him.
Rauf also pointed to the nexus between Jammu-Delhi-Mumbai based tour operators and asked the government to take swift action against tour operators selling chopper tickets at exorbitant prices and who were ‘bringing a bad name’ to the Kashmiri tourism industry. “The government should also remove the people from the Amarnath Shrine Board who favour particular tour operators with helicopter tickets. In case they fail to do so, we will abstain from providing our services to visitors,” he added.
Showkat Ahmad, owner of a travel agency, claimed that he bought tickets from one of the agents of the chopper service providers at a high price but the tickets were ‘fake’. “I bought 17 tickets from agents and all of them turned out to be fake. Afterwards, I went to their office but no action was taken against such agents,” Showkat said, while showing copies of the tickets to the media. He added that the inaction of the company proved that it too was part of ‘the nexus’.
The travel operators said the CBI should be ordered to probe how the chopper services are being run and how the tickets are being sold to visitors. “Valley-based tour operators are bearing the cost of this racket as visitors blame us for the high prices of tickets,” said Akram while iterating that if the ‘callous approach’ of the authorities persisted they would be left with no option but to launch a boycott and demand the suspension of chopper services to the pilgrimage.