Rashid Paul

Lack of visitors haunts Kashmir’s blooming Tulip Garden

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After last year’s disturbances, ongoing COVID shutdown hits floriculturists under the belt

Srinagar: An eerie emptiness is haunting Kashmir’s Tulip Garden, the largest of its kind in Asia, which despite being in full bloom is without any visitors because of a clampdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The garden, originally called Siraj Bagh, and renamed by the government as Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, has 1.3 million tulips. Nearly 60 varieties of its tulips are in full bloom but there are no visitors at all.

Three to five lakh visitors including locals, domestic and international tourists used to visit the garden between 25th of March till the end of April every year.

The visitor footfall had declined in 2019 after some countries issued advisories asking their citizens to not visit Kashmir in the aftermath of an attack on a paramilitary vehicle by militants in February past year.

“But despite the advisories, 2.58 lakh tourists, mostly locals, had visited this important tourist attraction of Kashmir the previous year,” said an official.

The garden spread over an area of 30 hectares had earned the J&K government revenue of Rs 79 lakhs in the form of entry fee during the season.

However, the officials failed to outsource it for this year’s tulip season and were unable to invite any bidders.

“The process of bidding used to initiate in January but the careless and unreasonable approach by the officers aborted the plan this time,” said an insider.

Commercial floriculture has of late emerged a new enterprise in Kashmir. With the onset of spring, cut flower consignments worth lakhs of rupees are exported to markets in Delhi and other metropolitans in India.

The emerging commercial activity was, however, ravaged like other economic sectors by the 2019 seven month lockdown imposed by the government after the abrogation of J&K’s special constitutional status. It has been further worsened by the current lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic.

Government statistics say that J&K has 500 unit holders of controlled atmosphere flower cultivation. On a conservative estimate, the volume of business generated in floriculture is approximately around Rs 30 crore annually.

Bilal Ahmad from Achabal Shangus (South Kashmir) used to sell cut flowers of liliums and other varieties worth Rs 10 lakh from March to May.

“The flowers are rotting because of the corona induced lockdown” said Bilal.

The entrepreneur said that in 2019 he was unable to send any flower consignments to Delhi because of a very long lockdown post-August 05.

His enterprise — the Green House Products — spread over an acre of land had a loss of business of over Rs 20 lakh during previous year.

Hilal Ahmad who owns Shah Flowers, another floriculture unit in the area, says that growing flowers for commercial purposes in Kashmir is a profitable venture.

“But frequent disturbances in the form of lockdowns and protest strikes in the valley affect the business,” he said.

The government support too is very less compared to other states of India, he said.

For every cut flower consignment to New Delhi, the flower entrepreneurs have to spend Rs 10000-15000 on air freight.

“Floriculturists from North East and other states are provided a 100 percent freight subsidy by their respective governments besides cent percent incentives for tubular structures, shade nets and irrigation infrastructure,” he said, adding that no such incentives are available to the flowers growers in Kashmir.

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