Jammu: The wrapping up of a Parliamentary Standing Committee’s (PSC’s) three-day visit, without meeting stakeholders in Jammu, has drawn flak from several quarters. A delegation of 31 members of parliament, headed by T.G. Venkatesh, a Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra Pradesh, had visited Srinagar and Gulmarg on January 21 for a first-hand account of the problems faced by the road, tourism, travel and hospitality sectors. However, the delegation did not pay a visit to the Jammu division.
Terming it a “betrayal”, Lalit Mahajan, president, Bari Brahmana Industries Association, said that the Indian Government had yet again proved that “Kashmir is their only priority. Why have they not visited Jammu? Jammu is suffering equally as Kashmir. It seems that they have taken us for granted. Jammu has always stood by the government but we are unable to understand why stakeholders from Jammu were not taken into confidence for the meeting.”
Mahajan stressed that he and others were not even invited for the meeting. “In the past I, along with others, were invited for the meetings to discuss issues concerning Jammu but this time even that didn’t happen,” he added.
This the committee’s first visit to the region, two years after the abrogation Article 370 which was followed by two subsequent lockdowns – one after the revocation of special status and another during the COVID-19 pandemic – that has severely hit the business industry.
Pertinently, the visit also comes at a time when the ‘darbar’ has moved to the winter capital, with the Civil Secretariat and all major departments housed in Jammu. It is a bi-annual tradition of moving the secretariat and all other government offices between Jammu division and Kashmir – from Srinagar to Jammu during winter – given the weather conditions.
Rakesh Wazir, president of Hotel and Restaurant Association Katra, Vaishno Devi, said that the hospitality sector in Jammu had suffered huge losses post the abrogation of Article 370 and that they had been looking forward to the delegations visit. “We would have appreciated it if the delegation had visited Jammu alongside Kashmir. The hotel industry in Jammu has been hit badly. Vaishno Devi is the base camp of Jammu tourism and it has suffered huge losses, yet the delegation didn’t deem it right to visit us,” he added.
Besides Venkatesh, who led the delegation, the members of the team who visited Kashmir included Congress’ K.C. Venugopal, Biju Janata Dal’s Prasana Acharya, BJP's Sushil Kumar Modi and other Lok Sabha MPs including Congress’ Anto Antony, BJP's Manoj Tiwari and Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Janata Dal’s (United) (JDU) Dinesh Chandra Yadav.
Raminder K. Sanhotra, the general secretary of the Federation of Registered Travel Trade Associations, Jammu, said that they were shocked to learn that the delegation had conducted its survey without visiting Jammu.
“We were appalled to know that they are going to take a survey of losses suffered by stakeholders in Srinagar only. Is the Centre ignorant of the fact Jammu has suffered equal losses? As far as the tourism footfall is concerned, we have a lot of potential which has not been developed yet because of the bureaucracy,” said Sanhotra.
While the confinement of delegations itinerary to Kashmir has elicited sharp reactions, the stakeholders have said that they will not keep silent. “The Centre has mistaken our silence. If the Centre has taken our loyalty for granted, we too will have to take steps to show otherwise,” said Sanhotra, adding that he, along with others will be writing to T.G. Ventakesh about the disappointment among the industrialists and traders.
Accusing the Centre of rejecting Jammu’s development, JKNPP chairman and former minister Harsh Dev Singh said: “Jammu has been dumped, once again, by the saffron regime. Why has the central team and PSC again chosen to give preferential treatment to Kashmir while ignoring Jammu altogether?” he asked.