Having Tourism Development Authorities (TDAs) for promotion of tourism in picturesque areas of the state with immense tourism potential could do wonders. At least on paper, the basic aim of such nodal agencies is not only the speedy development of basic infrastructure at a particular tourist spot — road connectivity, creating facilities for comfortable stay of tourists as well as recreation avenues for them — but also to avoid duplication and over-lap between different government departments for proper planning. Besides laying down the order of priorities for developmental works, these development agencies are also expected to take care of publicity measures to attract more tourists.
This is indeed the idea that was there when different Tourism Development Authorities were created few years back. But on ground, the reality is not always as attractive as it seems on paper. Take any Tourism Development Authority (say one for Gulmarg or Pahalgam or for that matter any other area) as an example. Without doubt the GDA or PDA gives one a sufficient feel of messed-up priorities and lack of seriousness. Since the time of their inception, over a decade has passed but GDA or PDA has not done much. No doubt GDA or PDA should not be expected to have done much in terms of infrastructure development on their own, but one could genuinely expect that by now they should have come up with a well thought-out road-map with a time-frame with clearly defined milestones for tourism development in their respective areas. But even this minimum has not happened so far.
Each and every area has its uniqueness and certainly one cannot have ‘one size fits all’ kind of strategy for every tourist spot. Some places might be suited for leisure and others for winter sports, mountaineering or something else. Not every place can be built as a replica of the Gulmarg or Phalgam and this is to be borne in mind while planning tourism development of a particular area. But this vital factor is clearly missing in each Authorities’ planning. The planners at each spot seem to be obsessed with copying everything that is there at other tourist destinations.
Now what is the fun of spending millions of rupees in organizing events to woo tourists for a places which are without proper roads, have dearth of good and sufficient accommodation and other basic tourism-related amenities? Such events make for good publicity, and could be a good shot for the next day’s newspapers, but it is simply not good enough to satisfy the wants of visiting tourists.
This is not to say that idea of creating Tourism Development Authorities and vesting them with the responsibilities of tourism development at each location was wrong. Indeed this is a very good idea and could go a long way in promoting tourism on modern and economically viable lines by coordinating the activities of different government agencies under a single roof and under single window. But the initiative could yield dividends only when it is backed up with proper, modern and scientific know-how about tourism development and promotion, infrastructure building and hosting culture. And more than anything else, there must be proper checks and balances on the working of these Tourism Development Authorities – they cannot be allowed to evolve into islands of unaccountability. Instead, they should be held accountable for every single penny that goes into their organizational and working costs, and they should be made answerable for every single brick that is added to any building at each tourist resort.
Mind it, most of Kashmir’s tourist places are faced with a grave danger of encroachments and illegal constructions. We still have some of state’s top bureaucrats and businessmen facing criminal charges for their alleged complicity in corrupt practices in the name of tourism development. There are already countless cases of encroachments of government (forest) land, and illegal constructions at Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and other resorts. While the government is trying to attract private investment for tourism development by promising various perks like single window clearance system to investors, it must at the same time make sure that everything is kept under proper scrutiny to minimize the chances of further damage to the fragile ecology at various resorts.