The Covid-19 pandemic, along with the shutdown following abrogation of Article 370 in August last year, dealt a severe blow to tourism in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The number of tourists to Jammu and Kashmir stood at about 25.04 lakh (nearly 25 lakh domestic tourists and 5,056 foreign tourists) this year till June 2020, according to Ministry of Tourism data.
As per the provisional data shared, 1.62 crore visitors came to Jammu and Kashmir in the full year 2019. Of these, about 1.61 crore were domestic and 57,920 people were foreign tourists. The number of visitors to Jammu and Kashmir is also lower compared to 2018, when the tourist numbers stood at over 1.72 crore, including 1.70 crore domestic and over 1.39 lakh foreign visitors.
However, there are signs of the tide gradually turning after the government opened the Union Territory for tourism now, according to industry players. Several tourists visited Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam—the three main destinations in the Valley that are a favourite among tourists—and bookings and inquiries by visitors, especially for the winter months, have witnessed a slow but steady increase over the last few weeks.
“Unlock Kashmir” is a movement started by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department, to promote the tourism activities in the Valley. After 15 months, tourism activities have started in the Valley, tourists are reaching Srinagar after Diwali.
Farooq Ahmad Kuthoo, president of Travels Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), is among those optimistic about the prospects. “Some movement has started as positive news has gone out and the Tourism Department has started different activities. So, people’s interest in travelling to Kashmir is increasing and we are hopeful that we will at least have some traffic for the winter season if not cent percent revival,”
As many as 2,238 tourists have arrived in the Valley during the last two weeks and the travel queries are on a rise. Tour operators from outside the Valley, who are accompanying groups of tourists, are optimistic for revival of tourism in the valley.
Satish Shah, owner of Mumbai-based Pooja Tours and Travels, who is presently in the Valley accompanying a group of 90 tourists from Maharashtra, said that all protocols related to Covid-19 such as “wearing of face-masks and sanitisation of hotels are being followed”.
Mumbai-based operator Satish Shah launched a campaign by the name of “Unlock Kashmir’ and kept encouraging people to visit the Valley. There is demand for domestic tourism as there are still restrictions on international tourism and travel; the “worst downturn” in Kashmir’s tourism sector of late was witnessed after the February 2019 Pulwama attack and more recently after the outbreak of Covid-19, which even led to job losses in the hospitality sector. However, Shah said the fresh snowfall in upper reaches, especially Gulmarg, has “sent out a positive message to prospective tourists”. Shah has been promoting Kashmir tourism for the last 25 years. He is the first tour operator who reached Kashmir Valley with the group of 100 tourists to valley in the last 15 months.
Jammu Kashmir Tourism Department director Nisar Wani said: “We are promoting Jammu and Kashmir in various parts of the country. We are doing road shows; due to Covid and the lockdown, tourism has been badly affected in the valley. We are hopeful for revive in tourism in the next two months.”
Gulmarg assistant tourism director Javed Rehman said that from October, domestic tourists are visiting Gulmarg. Due to fresh snowfall, every day 300 tourists are visiting Gulmarg. “We are organising a winter festival and Khelo India to Gulmarg.”
Sultan Shaikh said that Kashmir has been badly affected in the last 15 months, and now “we are hopeful to revive the tourism sector. Every year, 60% Gujaratis, 20% Maharashtrians and 10% Bengalis visit the Valley. We are wooing the Gujarat and Maharashtra tour operators to the Valley.”
Chandrkant Gala and his wife are in Kashmir for the first time, visiting various tourist places of Srinagar, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg. Gala said they feel safe in Kashmir. “It’s really heaven on earth. During 8 months of lockdown, my wife was fed up sitting at home; so, we decided to visit Kashmir.”
Like Gala, another Mumbai resident Sanjay Parmar visited Kashmir with his wife Manju. Parmar said that they visited Kashmir in the 1980s for honeymoon. They stayed here for one month. Kashmir has not changed over a period of time, he said. After more than two decades, they visited the valley, but its beauty is still as pristine as ever. Sanjay and his wife visited the valley with pooja tours and travels.
Parmar said: “All members of our family were working from home; so, I thought of visiting Kashmir in winter. Here, there is no fear of Covid-19, unlike in Mumbai.”
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CONGRESS’ PERFORMANCE IN ASSEMBLY POLLS VERY DISAPPOINTING: SONIA GANDHI
Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday termed her party’s performance in the recently-concluded assembly polls as “very disappointing” and said the party “must learn appropriate lesson” from the setback in the spirit of humility and honesty. Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting, Gandhi said Congress Working Committee will meet shortly to review the results. She also termed the party’s performance as “unexpected”.
“Most unfortunately, our own performance in all the states was very disappointing and if I may say, unexpectedly so. The CWC is meeting shortly to review the results but it goes without saying that we as a party collective must draw the appropriate lessons from this setback in a spirit of humility and honesty,” she said.
Gandhi also congratulated Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK chief MK Stalin for their “handsome victories”.
Congress suffered defeats in Assam and West Bengal and could not open its account in West Bengal where it had won over 40 seats in 2016 polls. The Congress could win only two seats in Puducherry where it was in power about two months back. Only in Tamil Nadu, the party gave a credible performance as part of the DMK-led alliance which swept to power, defeating the AIADMK-led alliance.
The Congress-led Mahajot was the main challenger to the ruling BJP-led NDA in Assam and Congress-led UDF to the ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala. While NDA returned to power in Assam, the LDF returned to power in Kerala.
WITH ANI INPUTS
WB moves SC seeking direction to disband current vaccination policy
The Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government on Friday moved to the Supreme Court seeking direction to disband the current Covid-19 vaccination policy and bring in uniform vaccination policy by doing away with the differential pricing mechanism. Disband the “Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of Covid-19 Vaccination” policy and adopt and implement a uniform policy of procuring 100 percent doses of Covid-19 which can be equitably distributed to the States and Union Territories for free de-centralized distribution,” the plea said.
Earlier, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting free Covid vaccination for all citizens. “I firmly believe that this battle against Covid will be won with coordinated and collaborative efforts of all stakeholders in augmenting infrastructure and an earnest drive for universal vaccination free of cost. I am looking forward to your kind cooperation in this regard. With regards,” stated Mamata in the letter to the Prime Minister.
She had also slammed the PM for not receiving any reply from him over her letter regarding the free Covid-19 vaccination for all citizens. “I have not got any reply till now from PM Modi over the issue of free vaccination. He must be busy,” Mamata said. The third phase of the vaccination drive commenced on May 1 making everyone above the age of 18 eligible to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The Covid vaccine manufacturing companies are empowered to release up to 50 per cent of their supply to state governments and in the open market at a pre-declared price. The Covid-19 situation in India continues to deteriorate amid the second wave of coronavirus infections.
With a total of 4,14,188 new Covid-19 cases being recorded in the last 24 hours, India again reported its highest single-day spike on the second consecutive day. With this, the cumulative count of cases in the country reached 2,14,91,598, informed Union Health Ministry.
Ministry requests states, UTs to prioritise beneficiaries of 2nd dose of vaccine
The Union Health Ministry on Friday requested all the states and Union Territories to prioritise the beneficiaries of the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. “From the side of the Union Health Ministry, we requested all the states/ UTs to prioritise the beneficiaries of the second dose and ensure the timely completion of the recommended vaccination schedule,” Additional Secretary (Health) Arti Ahuja said during a media briefing.
The Ministry also urged that the states / UTs to use the vaccines received by them through the ‘Government of India channel’ in 70:30 ratio for the second dose and the first dose respectively. “Secondly, utilise the supplies of the vaccines through the Government of India channel in the 70:30 ratio for the second dose and the first dose respectively and do a regular review of the coverage of the vaccination drive,” said Ahuja.
The Ministry also said that so far, a total of 16.50 crore doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered across all categories.
“Among the Healthcare workers, so far, 0.95 crore doses have been administered for the first dose and 0.64 crore doses have been given as the second dose. Similarly, for the frontline workers, 1.38 crore doses for the first dose and 0.75 crore doses for the second dose have been given,” the Additional Secretary (Health) said.
Virat and Anushka start a Covid fundraiser, donate Rs 2 crore
As India battles with the Covid-19 pandemic, several Bollywood celebrities and cricketers have come forward and shown their support by raising funds or providing oxygen concentrators and food essentials.
After Sachin Tendulkar, Pat Cummins, the Indian Cricket Team Skipper Virat Kohli and his actress wife Anushka Sharma are raising funds for providing help during the Covid pandemic.
Virat and Anushka have started a fundraiser for Covid-19 relief work in India and have requested their fans to donate to the fund. The couple has donated Rs 2 crore.
Virat and Anushka took to their respective social media handles and posted about the fundraiser for the people of India. Anushka said, “India is going through an extremely difficult time and the second wave of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic has pushed our country to a state of crisis. It is time for all of us to come together and do our bit for our fellow countrymen who are in serious need of support. Virat and I have been hugely pained looking at the inexplicable suffering that people are going through and we hope that this fund will aid in our fight against the virus that we are all helplessly witnessing. We are praying for everyone’s safety. We hope that you join us in our prayers to save as many lives as possible because we are all in this together. #InThisTogether”
Virat said, “We are going through an unprecedented time in the history of our country and our nation needs all of us to unite and save as many people as possible. Anushka and I have been shocked to see human suffering since last year. We have been working towards helping as many people as possible all through the pandemic and now, India wants our support more than ever. We are starting this fundraiser with the confidence that we will be able to raise substantial funds to aid those in dire need. We are confident that people will come forward to support fellow countrymen in crisis. We are in this together and we shall overcome this. #InThisTogether” The couple has collaborated with Ketto for raising funds.
WHO APPROVES CHINESE VACCINE FOR EMERGENCY USE
GENEVA: The World Health Organization approved the emergency use of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine, Sinopharm, on Friday. It’s the first Chinese vaccine to receive WHO’s approval, although it is already being used in several poor countries. There is not much data about how effective Sinopharm is, however, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference that the Chinese vaccine had received WHO’s validation of “safety, efficacy and quality”.
SC REFUSES TO INTERFERE IN CENTRAL VISTA PROJECT
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday urged the Delhi High Court to consider the PIL filed seeking a stay on the construction work of the Central Vista project in the national capital and asked the High Court to issue orders related to the matter. An apex court bench comprising Justice Vineet Saran and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari on Friday heard the petition for the Special Leave Petition filed by the petitioner. The SC heard the plea and has requested the Delhi HC to consider it and pass orders stating that the matter involves extreme urgency.
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