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Guv asks people to bear with traffic restrictions

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Disagrees with tourism traders, says restrictions not hampering tourism

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik Sunday said the people of Kashmir should bear the restrictions on civilian traffic on a stretch of Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for the Amarnath Yatra as it was a matter of pilgrims' security.

He was visiting the 'yatri niwas' at Panthachowk here to take stock of the arrangements for the pilgrims.

"This is being done for their (yatris) security and the people should bear it. In our state, in western Uttar Pradesh, when Kanwar yatra starts, no vehicle plies on the highway for a month and no one complains," Malik told reporters here.

"Here, traffic is stopped for two hours and a hue and cry is being raised... People know what has happened on the highway," he said, referring to the February 14 attack on the highway at Lethpora in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

Asked about tourism players' concern that the restrictions were affecting tourism in the valley, Malik said there was no impact on it.

"There is no impact on tourism. Gulmarg is full. People have to be stopped (from going) there, there is no place," he said.

The governor said the pilgrims, with whom he interacted, were happy and satisfied about the arrangements for the annual yatra which began on July 1.

"My satisfaction does not matter. The people here are satisfied. They are very happy and satisfied about the security and other arrangements for the yatra," he said.

Malik said the pilgrimage would not have been possible without the support of Muslims of the valley.

"The people of Kashmir conduct the yatra and the majority areas are of Muslims without whom the yatra is not possible... the people think of the yatra as their own and make it successful every time," he said.  Earlier, people with stakes in the tourism industry alleged that the restriction on movement of civilian vehicles on Amarnath Yatra routes are hampering tourism in Kashmir Valley during the peak season.

The stakeholders raised the concern during an interaction here with Tourism Department Secretary Rigzian Sampheal, who assured them that steps would be taken to address the issue.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have barred civilian traffic on Qazigund-Nashri stretch of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway for five-and-a-half hours from 10 am to 3:30 pm in order to allow incident-free passage to vehicles carrying Amarnath pilgrims.

No vehicle movement, except for emergency vehicles, is allowed in the same or the opposite direction as the Yatra convoy on the stretch and non-Yatra vehicles are allowed to use the stretch only after the convoy is cleared.

"Tourists are being harassed in the name of security for the Yatra. Tourists are not allowed to move freely towards Sonamarg or Pahalgam. The restriction on the highway also impacts their (tourists') movement," Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation president  Wahid Malik said during the interaction also attended by the Kashmir’s Tourism director.

Nazir Mir, chief patron of Association of Kashmir Tour Operators, said the restrictions were affecting leisure tourism and it has a negative impact on the people intending to visit the Valley.

The stakeholders said the Valley has witnessed almost zero bookings since the 45-day Yatra began on July 01, and sought a solution to the issue.

Tourists have been thronging the high-altitude areas of Jammu region instead. A record 2.10 lakh tourists visited the Bhaderwah, picturesque township in Doda district in nearly 20 days, Bhadarwah Development Authority CEO Rajinder Khajuria said.

Another tourism player, Ishfaq Siddiq, who is the chairman of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, said the government should put a blanket ban on tourism for the Yatra period if it cannot address such issues.

"There seems to be trust deficit as far as government agencies are concerned. The leisure tourism has been adversely hit. If there are no solutions, then the government should put a blanket ban on tourism for these 45 days (of the Yatra)," he said.

Siddiq suggested segregation of pilgrims and leisure tourists.

Some stakeholders also suggested deployment of tourist police at various security check-points to identify leisure tourists and help them.

Secretary, Tourism department assured them that steps would be taken for the smooth traffic management.

"The main feedback from the tourism stakeholders was about traffic management issues as the Yatra has started. I have assured them we will resolve that as we have the mechanism for that," Sampheal told reporters.

He said the traffic for Amarnath Yatra is a very well organised traffic management system and the administration has kept a balance between pilgrimage tourists and leisure tourists so that they do not face difficulties.

"The Yatra is a process and not an event. There is a need for mid-course correction everywhere and we will ensure that the traffic flows smoothly based on the feedback that we get," he said.

About high airfare to and fro Kashmir in the peak season, the Secretary said the department will take up the issue with the airlines and expressed hope the airfare would be rationalised.

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