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Administrative Roadblocks Dampen Tourism Spirit in Kashmir Despite High Footfalls

Anees Zargar |
Stakeholders in tourism business, especially hoteliers, fear “uncertainty” after the UT admin’s proposed new rules as per which all outgoing lessees are expected to handover possession of leased land.
tourists seen near the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Tourists seen near the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar. Image Courtesy: PTI

Srinagar: Kashmir Valley witnessed the highest footfall of tourists after years of economic slump and turmoil with over 22 lakh visitors reported in 2022. Despite being at the centre of attraction, however, stakeholders in the region have been expressing concerns over, what they foresee, as uncertain times ahead.

The “uncertainty” comes after the government proposed new Land Grant Rules due to which all outgoing lessees are expected to handover possession of leased land “except in the case of subsisting or expired leases for residential purposes”. The new rules, introduced earlier in December, have dampened the spirits of people involved in the tourism sector, especially hoteliers in the popular tourist destinations of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.

Prominent hotelier and chairman of the J&K Hoteliers Club, Mushtaq Chaya, told NewsClick that the decision would affect the livelihood of lakhs of people directly dependent on it. Chaya said the stakeholders were trying to convince the authorities about the negative impact the new rules would have on the tourism industry.

“Everyone has realised that the order about the new land rules is not in tandem with the law of the country. The laws that exist in the entire country should also be implemented here. As of now, we are trying to make everyone understand now the ball is in their (administration) court,” Chaya said.

Businessmen and traders involved in the sector have been struggling for many years in the wake of raging violence and “civil unrest” due to which many countries, including the US, have issued travel restrictions for its citizens visiting Kashmir. The past few years were different though, with Kashmir emerging as a hotspot in the wake of limited travel to global tourist destinations. The tourism sector witnessed a surge in profits and subsequently in infrastructure. But, this was after tourists had to pay three to four times higher prices for accommodation in the region with rooms booked for entire seasons.

The tourism department in Jammu and Kashmir has been projecting Kashmir as one of the world’s best tourist destinations even as the region attracts only a small number of foreign tourists every year. This year, of the total reported 22,59,569 tourists who visited Kashmir between January to December, only 18,953 foreign arrivals were recorded. A significant number of winter arrivals, including foreigners, travel to Gulmarg for skiing, an excellent and cheaper alternative. The tourism department is also holding a winter festival at the ski-resort around the New Year.

All the tourist infrastructure in Gulmarg is entirely on lease land and there are a total of 59 structures in the shape of hotels, guest houses and huts.


“Of these, the lease of 58 structures has expired. I don’t understand how they can shut down the destination without any reason. If it is a question of money, we are ready to pay whatever premium the government fixes in a reasonable way. This is the truth and is only fair,” Chaya said.

Many argued that the exclusive and first right should be granted to lease-holders and revised rates should be negotiated. The government’s threat of eviction to the outgoing lease-holders unless the properties are handed over under the new rules, drew sharp criticism from trade leaders as well as political parties in the region, who called the new land rules as as “unfortunate” adding that it seems like a “plan to settle outsiders.”

Another hotelier, who owns a hotel in Pahalgam, said these high prices make the travel for visitors less enjoyable in view of the lack of enough space or infrastructure.

“Such administrative roadblocks will make it further difficult for hoteliers and that will ultimately affect tourists. Mere events and marketing are not enough. These may bring visitors but then they must have a memorable experience and not face problems,” he said.

Earlier in April, a delegation of prominent trade leaders, including Chaya, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and submitted a 14-page memorandum. The businessmen later said they had a “good meeting” where issues related to trade and commerce and the issue of lease were discussed.

“Prime Minister Modi had even promised at the time that an extension would be given. He assured us that no one will be bothered,” Chaya said.

Amidst these concerns, the senior hotelier said that the decision remains with the administration now. “We have done our part by sending representations, memoranda, and now it is the government which has to play its part, and we are sure that they will do it,” he added.

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