Tourism plays a vital role in the economic development of a number of countries across the globe. Kashmir is no exception. Known for its astonishing beauty throughout the world, the famous vale has suitably been described as “The Paradise on Earth.” Bubbling streams, lush green meadows and lily-laden lakes the valley of Kashmir is any tourist’s dream. Set like a gleaming diamond, Kashmir is a multi-faceted tourist destination. Changing its hues with every season, it is always uniquely beautiful. It is blessed with snow capped mountains, honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and splendid blue skies.
Before 1989, Kashmir was a paradise in the true sense. The conflictual conditions since then have hit hard the tourism sector causing the loss of tourist appetite for this particular destination. Tourism, which is the main stay in the economy of Kashmir, is deeply affected by various circumstances created out of the unsettled environment. Tourism and its related sectors are battered causing not only the creation of a negative Kashmir image but also loss of livelihood to those dependent on it directly or indirectly.
As the paradise on the Earth continues to in the grips of conflict since last three decades, hundreds of precious lives have been lost. Besides, this, there has been considerable loss of revenue. Kashmir has rich natural resources and a talented and entrepreneurial people, but its economic development has been hobbled by misguided economic policies, corruption, and lack of cooperation between India and Pakistan, and political turmoil. Due to topographical reasons, there is hardly any heavy industry in the state. Unemployment problem is enormous among the employable youth. Tourism is the only suitable industry that can provide both employment and revenue because of the region’s natural beauty and landscape
The region of Jammu and Kashmir comprises of three distinct regions. Each region of the state is attributed with distinct and different set of culture, social taboos and ethos. Due to frequent turmoil in the state, no investor is willing to come forward for making any investment in any business avenue in the state. Almost every sphere of the state economy is under the eclipse of non economic activities. More particularly, the economy of the Kashmir valley most suffers from the tourism point of view. Tourists basically want safety, security and comfort.
During the early 1980’s, lakhs of tourists used to visit to the Kashmir valley and now the same is considerably insignificant. Ongoing conflict has not only affected tourism but agriculture and the handicraft industry too. In general, the economy of Kashmir suffers from all sources. Agriculture and the handicraft industry are suffering because no skilled labour force is available. Skilled and unskilled labour used to continuously flow to the state from other parts of the country and now the same has whittled down to a significant extent. Tourism is the principal source of living for the common people and it is the backbone of the state economy but conditions on Kashmir have not been a boon for it.
Nearly 1,100 houseboats are there in the Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake and Jhelum and almost those who were employed in this business are simply living idle whenever there is unrest in the state. There are more than 2,000 Shikarawalas who are among the worst sufferers. The average level of economic occupancy before the beginning of armed conflict was about 90% for the houseboat businessmen, 80% hoteliers and 75% for Shikara owners and the same is hardly 5%, 5% and 10% respectively now. The most glaring incidence is that about 70% of houseboat businessmen, 40% hoteliers and 30% shikarawalas have migrated to other avenues of earning their livelihood.
The economic wheel of the region is stagnant and has far reaching consequences if it is not handled with care right now. Kashmir is full of talent and it is high time to make optimum utilisation of human resources of the state. Economically sustainable development is possible when there is civic peace and political stability which as of now is not presently in Kashmir. Now, reconstruction in economic sector, education sector and infrastructural sector is the need of the hour. Confidence building among the various civil societies is a must and it can yield immediate result in terms of peace. Governments in the Indian and Pakistani parts of the region of Jammu and Kashmir must grant their people freedom by rolling back restrictions on business, terminating governmental monopolies in trade and commerce and encouraging international investment by bodies such as the World Bank and the Asian development Bank. Key areas for investment are watershed development, the timber industry, fruit processing and power generation.
The government also is recommended to frame and formulate a tourism policy and guide the people interested in making investment in tourism sector of the state economy. More and more tourist destinations need to be explored and the same are available in Kashmir.
—The author is a student of Economics in Aligarh Muslim University, UP. He can be reached at: [email protected]