ANANTNAG: Tourism authorities last week started renting out the Gateway of Kashmir Complex in Qazigund for weddings, after it failed to promote tourism activities, which was the previous government’s stated aim behind its establishment.
The Rs 7-crore complex, inaugurated by former chief minister Omar Abdullah in December 2011 at Lewdoora, was meant to receive and register tourists visiting the Valley by road. It consists of a restaurant, shopping complex, information centre, tourist reception centre and dormitories for night stay.
“Since the first day of its inauguration the complex has remained non-functional. You can see all the facilities shut and their floors covered with bird droppings,” said Mohammad Hafiz, a local resident.
Realising that the complex was turning into a white elephant, the authorities rented it out last week for weddings and other functions. A first wedding was hosted at the complex last, and the family was charged Rs 1 lakh.
“We encourage the people to organise functions in the complex so that the revenue is generated. We have renovated the same for this purpose only,” secretary tourism Farooq Ahmad Shah told Kashmir Reader.
Asked why the department is not promoting tourism activities after constructing the complex at such a huge cost, he said “the department is devising a mechanism for the same”.
But local residents are skeptical of its utility as a wedding hall, reasoning that there is no dearth of space in this rural belt.
“Having such a complex as a wedding hall in Anantnag town makes sense, not here. The man who hosted a party on the wedding of his daughter is a rich politician and had invited thousands of people including VIPs,” said Irshad Ahmad, a local resident.
An official of the tourist department, requesting anonymity, said unless the department makes it mandatory for every tourist to stop at the gateway for registration and to hire local vehicles for travel inside the Valley, the complex will remain an idle piece of construction.
“The only income the gateway complex generated during the last four years is on account of the stay of a few passengers who were stranded in the town due to closure of Jammu-Srinagar highway during winters,” the official said.
Tourist footfall was very low this year for various reasons: last year’s flood, three flood warnings this year and political unrest. Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who also holds tourism portfolio, had tried to woo Bollywood actors to the state in the hope that tourist arrivals will pick up. But according to travel and tourism businessmen, hoteliers offered heavy discounts on room tariffs because of low footfall.