Interview | National

Incomplete schemes in J&K are being completed now: Prahlad Singh Patel

Prahlad Singh Patel.

Prahlad Singh Patel.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Impact of removal of Article 370 is being felt now; particularly women were very positive, says the Union Minister of State for Culture & Tourism

Union Culture and Tourism Minister of State (independent charge) Prahlad Singh Patel, who visited Ramnagar, Udhampur and Jammu last week as a part of the outreach by Central ministers after the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, says the government plans to boost culture and tourism in Jammu and Ladakh, which had been discriminated against.

Having visited Jammu last week, what was your experience and what according to you is the impact of such a visit?

The most common refrain I heard from people was that this had never happened before. They said no Union Minister had an overnight stay at Ramnagar before. In terms of reactions to the removal of Article 370 and 35A, particularly women were very positive and honest. They said the biggest advantages were that their daughters’ property rights won’t get taken away after marriage to outsiders, stone pelting had stopped and now they have the assurance that after investing in property, they won’t have to flee their homes due to insecurity.

The impact of the removal of Article 370 is being felt by people now. The incomplete schemes that had been pending for 10-15 years, are now being completed. The central government’s social security schemes are now being implemented. For instance, in Ramnagar alone, 230 people have now enrolled into Ayushman Bharat.

You may call it discrimination or lack of transparency, the biggest example of which is a potential tourist hub called Basantgarh, which is a rival of Gulmarg, that had been neglected so far.

The construction of the road from Ramnagar till Basantgarh had been approved years ago, but it was pending till now. [Mr. Patel laid the foundation stone for this and other pending projects during his visit.]

How do you plan on addressing this feeling of neglect, as you have described?

The Tourism Ministry is recommending 100 roads to the National Highways Authority of India to develop keeping in mind the tourism potential. So we have decided that we will include roads in Ramnagar, Basantgarh and Udhampur to link tourist sites like Krimchi temples and other Archaeological Survey of India-protected sites linked to Raja Gulab Singh.

We are also working on developing new circuits, including from Chamba to Bhaderwah, where there is potential for trekking and cycling routes. It is a beautiful place, but it did not get any boost due to partiality.

Then we plan to develop a circuit from Katra till Akhnoor, where there is a historic fort, a Buddhism site, a riverfront that can be a landing ground for rafting as well a National Highway.

For Ladakh, the Prime Minister has already announced an increase in the capacity of the Leh airport and work on Kargil airport will be done. Kargil has 100 historic rock art sites in the span of less than a kilometre; we will develop this as rock art park. On the highway from Leh till Kargil, we are planning on creating tourist rest stops every 15-20 km. These will have medical facility, including oxygen, cafes and garbage recycling. These would be operated on PPP model with the help of the local hill council.

While you are planning to boost tourism, communication lines have remained cut in the region for months. Hasn’t that impacted tourism and business in general?

I met the business community and representatives of the chamber of commerce during my visit. They are happy now. There is a feel good factor. They feel that they will not have to flee from there. They told me that they used to invest their money in buying a house in some other State like Punjab in case they have to leave in an emergency.

When it comes to tourists, after removal of Article 370 and then passage of Citizenship Amendment Act, despite the protests and travel advisories from nine countries, there has been a growth of 43% in e-visas in the past four to five months.

In fact, in Mahabalipuram, there has been a 35% increase in footfall since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit. ASI had to put up six new counters. Overall, we have seen an increase in foreign tourists from 10.21 lakh in November 2018 to 10.91 lakh in November 2019.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:32:27 PM |

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