Lt. Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Sh. Manoj Sinha participated in the ‘Badalta Jammu & Kashmir’ conference in Mumbai on Dec. 18, 2022. There he spoke about J&K’s growth and prosperity, especially for the last few years, highlighting how such developments have inculcated fresh hope and confidence amongst the local populace. An outpouring in tourism, progress in critical sectors, and infrastructural development in J&K are a testimony to the growth visible to everyone. Youth empowerment, removing barriers for people in setting up businesses and providing opportunities for all have been key to the administration’s agenda.
As per the Year End 2022 report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India, J&K, which was earlier a terrorist hotspot, has now been metamorphosed into a tourist hotspot. About 22 lakh tourists visited J&K the last year, four times more than the previous highest number.
On the other hand, the number of security forces personnel martyred declined from 91 in 2018 to 42 in 2021, and the number of terrorist incidents went down from 417 in 2018 to 229 in 2021. And a total number of terrorists killed dropped from 257 in 2018 to 180 in 2021.
Tourism sustained and increased in 2022-23 as all the key tourist resorts based in Sonmarg, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam were at total capacity before the New Year celebrations started. The number of guests progressively increased as Christmas and New Year drew near, and many hotel owners offered specially curated entertainment programmes and other offers to attract the guests.
Taking an astride from the yesteryears, which mainly were infested with terrorism, last year tourism grew tremendously. With the help of security forces, the Government restored normalcy in the region. Consequently, the local economy continued to prosper as direct and indirect revenue sources were created. Today, houseboats, guesthouses, and hotels are occupied to the brim with the arrival of guests.
To attract private investors from all over the country to invest in J&K Tourism, the Government of UT notified Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Policy 2020 to lift the ‘Tourism Sector’. During 2021-22, 13 projects were completed under PMDP, including the ‘Construction of Tourist Facilities’. Besides this, 23 other projects were completed for Rs 837.17 lahks. To boost the pilgrimage tourism in the UT of J&K, the Project for Development of Hazaratbal shrine costing Rs 42.00 crores sanctioned under the Central Sector Scheme (PRASAD) were completed.
Seventy-five off-beat tourist destinations were identified by the tourism department in J&K, including 38 in Kashmir and 37 in Jammu Division.
The Govt of J&K launched a week-long ‘Iconic Festivals’ from 23 to 29 Oct 2021 as a part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations under the theme of ‘Spirit of J&K’. During this period, various events/festivals were organised both in Jammu as well as in Kashmir. These events included the Sufi, houseboat, the literary festivals at Gulmarg, and various grand cultural, musical, and adventure events at Jammu Division. Hon’ble Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah inaugurated the great ‘Houseboat Festival’.
J&K Open Golf Championship-2021 was conducted at Srinagar. The J&K tourism department of J&K, in association with the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), organised J&K Open Golf Championship 2021 from 15 to 19 Sept 2021. It was a mega event wherein 126 professional golfers from across the country participated in this event. It was the first time a professional Golf Tournament of this magnitude was held in J&K.
Ambassadors Golf Tournament at Pahalgam. PHDCCI held a golf conclave and tournament in collaboration with the J&K tourism department at Pahalgam in Oct 2021 in which various prominent golfers of the country, including Ambassadors/High Commissioners from 8 countries, took part in it.
The J&K Govt organised a grand air show in Dal Lake to celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. Promotional campaigns in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown, the tourism industry came to a standstill. But as the COVID situation improved and cases receded, the J&K tourism department initiated an all-out promotional drive by regularly organising a series of ‘World Tourism Day’ events in Sept 2020 and after that. Subsequently, several promotional events were held within and outside the UT. Winter carnivals were organised at Pahalgam and Patnitop, and the Khelo India Winter games were held consecutively for the second time in Gulmarg in February 2021. To provide some wherewithal to the tourism-related stakeholders during the COVID period, 17.44 crore was released as relief funds during the pandemic.
Holding roadshows attract tourists from different parts of the country. The J&K tourism department organised road shows in various prominent cities across the country during Aug-Sept 2021 at Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, etc. An outreach promotional campaign was recently organised in Pune, Lucknow, and Hyderabad in Nov-Dec. The sustained Tourist Footfall promotional campaign yielded encouraging results as tourist footfall increased manifold, and 51,92,869 tourists visited the UT during August-November 2021, despite the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.
J&K has benefited from the various initiatives undertaken by the Indian Army to integrate the local populace into the nation’s mainstream. While the Indian Army’s presence, apart from its deployment on the Line of Control (LoC) in the major cities and towns in the Kashmir Valley, was an inescapable requirement in earlier years since the late 1980s. If now, J&K has again become a favourite for tourists; it is only because of the long haul of counter-insurgency/terrorism operations primarily led and coordinated by the Indian Army, CAPFs, and State police. They could manage some of the districts and towns which had been almost taken over by Pakistan army/ISI-supported terrorists.
The sacred soil of J&K has been the battleground for several wars, and the State has given some of the finest soldiers to the Indian Armed Forces. To show eternal gratitude to the martyrs of wars fought in J&K since independence, the Indian Army conceived a unique war memorial at Bahu Wali Rakh near the historic Bahu Fort and named it ‘Balidan Stambh’(the monument of sacrifice) in Jammu.Balidan Stambh is India’s first war memorial. It has a memorial pillar constructed in memory of the martyr soldiers. Balidan Stambh is a perfect historical and emotional rendezvous for the people of the Jammu region and epitomises a dynamic linkage of the rest of the country with Jammu & Kashmir. Here, our fallen heroes’ souls will rest in peace. It is located on the way to Bahu and has become a tourist destination.
Tourism is a vital lifeline for Jammu and Kashmir’s economy, contributing about 10% to the region’s GDP and generating employment for more than one hundred thousand people. It also caters to allied industries such as transport, handlooms and handicrafts. The thriving tourism sector has benefitted local people, especially the youth. The security forces and the administrative machinery of the UT collaborate to boost tourism in J&K.
Despite earnest efforts by the central and UT governments to pave a path for an era of peace and development, a few anti-national elements having violent leaning are hell-bent on destroying the peace and tranquillity in the region.
It is known to all that J&K had long been a site for ceaseless conflict and violence that deterred tourists for a long. Attempts have recently been made to bring back violence and conflict in J&K, which is worrying. The hostile forces are busy chalking out evil plans to fail Jammu and Kashmir’s positive and pro-people developmental approach. However, these nefarious designs have not succeeded in the past. The people will undoubtedly discard any attempt to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in J&K.