Every citizen should help calm tensions in Kashmir: Ambika Soni

August 14th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni
By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) Till a few weeks ago, hotels were booked up as were the famed houseboats and the stars were back being filmed against the mountains. But spiralling strife in Jammu and Kashmir has busted the boom, says a “hurt and disappointed” Tourism Minister Ambika Soni asking each individual to contribute to calming “pent up tensions”. The ongoing violence in the state — that has seen curfew, shutdowns and violent street protests leading to about 40 people being killed since May 26 — has hit not just tourism in the valley but also development, said the minister.

“I am hurt and disappointed that the tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir has been hit by the unrest in the state. Till a few months back, the hotels were booked, there were no rooms available and the houseboats were packed. But the situation is really bad now,” Soni told IANS in an interview.

“I feel so bad that tourism, which is the mainstay of the Kashmir valley, has been cut off totally. This year the valley saw a fabulous season, which also meant a lot of employment for the people. Every citizen should do his or her bit to calm the pent up tension,” said Soni.

Peace for Kashmir, she said, meant tourists were heading for the state and movies were being shot there once again.

The state had borne the brunt of almost two decades of militancy but industrial development had recently picked up with tourism being the key engine of change.

While 6.9 million tourists - both domestic and foreigners - visited Jammu and Kashmir in 2004, the number went up to 7.6 million in 2006, according to India Tourism Statistics, a report compiled by the tourism ministry.

Soni was to inaugurate a mountaineering institute in the state in June, but the plan has been put on hold for now given the volatile situation in the state that has been on the boil over allocation of a 40-hectare plot to the Amarnath shrine board. The decision led to protests in Kashmir and was subsequently revoked, prompting massive protests in Jammu.

According to Soni, “vested interests” had been creating havoc in the border state over which India and Pakistan have already fought three wars.

“It is frustrating that political parties are taking advantage of such situations. The agitation is being fanned by vested interests. I don’t want to name any party.

“Kashmir had a sense of alienation but the continued peace process was able to remove the obstacle. There were elections and everyone participated in it. The six-year coalition government saw peace in the valley,” said the Congress leader.

“The democratic process saw accelerated growth of the three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. This unrest is a setback to the whole process,” the minister said, asserting that the central government is taking all steps to restore normalcy in the state that is now under President’s rule.

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