Kashmiri villagers carry firewood collected from a nearby forest in Tosamaidan, southwest of Srinagar.
One of the most important sectors of Jammu and Kashmir’s economy is tourism.
Being the largest service industry in the UT, tourism contributes significantly to GDP, provides employment, yields tax revenue and also earns some foreign exchange for the country.
Like all vital sectors of J&K, tourism suffered huge losses ever since the outbreak of separatist violence in Kashmir.
Many European countries and the US issued advisories to their citizens not to travel to Kashmir, the place was categorised as ‘an unsafe travel destination’.
This brought misery into the lives of thousands of locals, including hoteliers, guesthouse owners, houseboat and Shikara operators in addition to taxi owners, Ponywallahs, tourist guides and others connected with this industry like shawl makers, Papier Machie artisans, carpet weavers, wood carving artisans etc.
For more than 6 years after 1990, when violence took centre stage in Kashmir, tourism virtually came to a grinding halt.
Revival of this major local industry was a huge challenge for various successive governments that came to power after 1990.
It was not only the main tourist activity that came to halt, but even the pilgrimage tourism like the annual Amarnath Yatra to the Himalayan cave shrine also remained a highly subdued exercise.
One silver lining to the dark cloud was the pilgrimage to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Reasi district of Jammu division.
The rush of pilgrims to the deity’s abode in Trikuta Hills kept increasing with each passing day.
It is estimated that each year over 2.6 crore devotees visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine.
There are places of tourist attraction in the Jammu division that were not adversely affected by the violence in the Valley, but there is no denying the fact that the major tourist attractions with worldwide popularity are in the Valley.
In J&K Budget 2021-2022 Rs 1,000 crore shall be taken up under the PM development programme for tourism infrastructure in addition to the Capex budget allocation.
Officials said the budget for tourism and culture, the two are allied departments, was Rs 283 crore in 2020-2021 and it is Rs 780 crore for 2021-2022.
Sarmad said in addition to this, efforts to woo Bollywood back to its choice outdoor location of Kashmir have already started bearing fruit.
The tourism department is also embarking on Saffron and Horticulture tourism to provide additional avenues to the industry in Kashmir.