Conflict Alerts # 120, 8 July 2020
In the news
On 6 June, the Tribune carried a news report highlighting the plight of taxi operators in Jammu. The news report quoted a taxi operator in Jammu stating: "The government is yet to decide on the resumption of the Vaishno Devi pilgrimage and there is no work at the local level as well. We are virtually on the verge of starvation. This taxi was the only source of income for me. My family has not been able to pay the tuition fee of our two children which is being repeatedly demanded by the school."
The problem is the same in Kashmir valley and holds for all economic activities in both the regions of J&K – Jammu and Kashmir – which is dependent on tourists – who come from rest of India and across the world – for different purposes – pilgrimage, holiday and adventure. For those who are dependent on tourism, Summer is lost already.
Issues at large
First is the COVID restriction that has prevented the movement of people into J&K. The closure of traffic into J&K by rail, road and air due to COVID restrictions has hit both the regions equally. During this period – the two capitals – Jammu and Srinagar should have been brimming with tourists and pilgrims. Multiple airlines from different destinations would bring rest of India into these two regions. And also, international tourists.
Second is the self-restriction by the tourists and the pilgrims, due to the impression that the situation in J&K is not normal to visit. Last year (2019) witnessed many developments before and after 5 August (when the Government of India revoked the special status of J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution) that has been widely discussed in the national and vernacular media. The tourists and the pilgrims, who would throng J&K for a shikara ride in the Dal lake in Srinagar, or play winter sports in Gulmarg, or take the pilgrimage trek to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath – have become a trickle.
Third, is the security lockdown. Much before the COVID, there was a security lockdown imposed, due to the resurgence of conflict in the Valley. Violence has been steadily increasing, and 2020 has already witnessed a record number of terrorist incidents in the last few years.
Fourth, is the increased investments in the tourist infrastructure by individuals. During the late 2000s and early 2010s, and the domestic expectations within J&K increased with a spurt in tourist arrivals to both the regions – Jammu and Kashmir. There was an increased investment within J&K on the tourism industry by individuals, as the tourism numbers steadily increased before 2016-18. New trains and flights to the cities of Jammu and Srinagar would mean, increased tourists and economic opportunities. Many took loans or gave up other activities and invested in tourism-related infrastructure. Like the taxi operator quoted above. There are numerous others from multiple industries – hotels, roadside eateries, guides, indigenous handicrafts (for example - carpets, curtains, paper maches) etc. And it is not just people from the two cities; it included others from towns such as Gulmarg in the Valley or Katra in Jammu.
For both the regions of J&K, it is double jeopardy with conflict and COVID. Third jeopardy comes with the topography of J&K, where the industrial sector has not taken off. Agriculture and tourism have become the mainstay of the economy. And there has been a shift from agriculture to the services during the recent years, due to other problems that are facing agriculture in the rest of India, from produce to labour. As the COVID outside and conflict inside continues, the tourism industry in J&K will face a tough time this year.
D Suba Chandran is the Professor and Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies, at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)