Srinagar: Since pilgrimage tourism is witnessing a surge across the globe, Kashmir too has not escaped the phenomenon. This sector has flourished in Kashmir Valley with almost 15000 people making the Umrah pilgrimage last year through private tour operators. Besides, 2000 people also performed Hajj through these tour operators.
The private Hajj and Umrah services which are getting directly benefitted by this phenomenon are also growing in numbers and otherwise. Presently, 80 companies are associated with the trade with 61 being members of the Jammu and Kashmir Association of Hajj and Umrah companies.
These companies are also providing employment to scores of people and are also helping in creating more avenues for growth for the entire pilgrimage tourism sector.
However, various cases of fraud, highhandedness and examples of bad services are also coming to the fore which the government as well as the tour operators are ignoring. The private operators are not sticking to the guidelines, rules and regulations which at times creates issues for the pilgrims and the general public.
The government has also failed to make stringent laws in this regard and ensure that any tour operator who misses out on providing services, as promised will have to face music.
The people in the Valley still remember the Al-Hajeej Tour and Travels fraud case. The owner of the company was accused of duping and cheating over 500 people in 2011 and swindled a staggering Rs 10 crore. Fabiyan Gilkar, the owner of the company was arrested in the case and was later granted interim bail. But in 2012, he again duped Haj aspirants.
There are other cases and issues as well which also need to be taken care of by the government as well as the stake holders. The tour operators have been resorting to unfair means in services and charging of the packages that they offer to the intending pilgrims.
The tour operators are not bound by any across the board rate and very little transparency is ensured while booking these packages, which also leaves lot of scope for unfair means. Besides, the government action against any reported unfair means or other issues is also minimal which makes it easy going for the operators to renege from the promises that they otherwise offer while luring the pilgrims.
Now, the government it seems is also waking up to the demands of the general public and just yesterday the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir called a meeting of the private tour operators.
The government functionaries have advised the operators to ensure better services and adoption of fair trade practices together with greater transparency and accountability so that any element of fraud is prevented.
But this does not seem to be enough. The government should immediately ensure that a legislation is brought which brings the tour operators to follow certain guidelines so that the pilgrimage tourism is promoted on professional lines and a strong grievance redressal mechanism is established so that cases of deceit, cheating and bad services are done away with.