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D-Day: Srinagar gears up to host G20 event amid heightened security

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The event has highest participation compared to previous two meetings: Union Secretary Tourism

Srinagar: Srinagar city has been spruced up for the three-day G20 working group meeting on tourism beginning Monday, while stringent security arrangements are in place across the Kashmir Valley to ensure that the high-profile event passes off peacefully, officials said on Sunday.

The route from Srinagar airport to Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) — the venue of the meeting — has been given a massive facelift with the G20 logo painted on walls and hoardings installed to welcome the delegates, they said.

The officials said the Gulmarg tourist resort in north Kashmir, where a meeting was also scheduled, has been beautified too.

However, officials said that a proposed visit of the delegation to Gulmarg, also known as Switzerland of Asia, had to be dropped in view of the “paucity of time”.

They said the delegates would visit Pari Mahal, Chesmashai, and other Mughal gardens, besides taking a walk on the renovated Polo View Market, before leaving Kashmir Valley on Wednesday.

Authorities are taking no chances and have beefed up security across the valley in view of the G20 meeting.

Counter-drone teams of the elite NSG are also scanning the sky, marine commandos of the navy patrolling the picturesque Dal Lake and scores of security personnel are on vigil on the ground to ensure a safe and secure G20 meeting beginning here on Monday, officials said.

Preparing to receive at least 60 delegates and 20 journalists from different parts of the world, the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have made elaborate arrangements for the third G20 Tourism Working Group meeting at the SKICC.

This is the first international meeting being held in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Aiming to ensure minimum policing and maximum security, the Jammu and Kashmir Police have roped in the army to cover the higher reaches of the Zabarwan Range overlooking the meeting venue and accommodation facilities for the guests.

Thirty companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which had earlier been taken out of Jammu and Kashmir for election duty in the rest of the country, have since been recalled to further strengthen security in the valley, where intelligence intercepts have suggested the presence of improvised explosive devices or a vehicle-based IED.

Officials said teams of the National Security Guard (NSG) counter-drone unit have been pressed into service to ensure that no unwanted aerial intrusion takes place. A hit team of the elite “Black Cat” commandos is in readiness to deal with any terrorist incident and a hostage-like situation.

“MARCOS teams will be patrolling the Dal Lake along with personnel from the river wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and CRPF as the convention centre is located on the bank of the water body,” an official involved with the security preparations said.

The marine commandos, or MARCOS, of the navy have been stationed at the Wulur Lake in the valley since the mid-1990s to prevent any infiltration from the Line of Control as terrorists had been using the water-body to enter into the hinterland.

The first working group meeting on tourism was held in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat in February and the second one in West Bengal’s Siliguri in April. 

 Meanwhile, the ‘third G20 Tourism Working Group Meeting’, being held from 22nd to 24th May 2023 in Srinagar, sets the stage for discussions and deliberations on final deliverables,  Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Arvind Singh said at a press conference at SKICC Srinagar today.

He said the two key deliverables of the Tourism Working Group include ‘GOA Roadmap for Tourism as a vehicle for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs)’ and ‘G20 Tourism Ministers’ Declaration’.

Giving details, Singh, according to a PIB press release, said this is the only working group meeting taking place in Srinagar as part of G20 effort with excellent response from all the member countries, all the invited countries and the international organisations, having the highest participation registered compared to the first two Tourism Working Group Meetings at Rann of Kutch and Siliguri.

Singh further said, G20 member countries, invited countries, and international organizations will give valuable inputs and feedback on these two draft documents and after negotiations with G20 Member Countries on these drafts, final versions will be placed in the ‘Fourth Tourism Working Group Meeting’.

Singh informed that the ‘3rd Tourism Working Group Meeting’ will deliberate on the five key priority areas — Green Tourism, Digitalization, Skills, MSMEs and Destination Management. 

These priorities are key building blocks for accelerating the transition of the tourism sector and achieving the targets for 2030 SDGs, he said.

Singh also said that a side event on ‘Film Tourism for Economic Growth and Cultural Preservation’ will be organized on 22nd and 23rd May 2023, focusing on strategies to promote film tourism in J&K. 

“The event will witness the participation of G20 member countries, invited countries, international organizations, and industry stakeholders. He also said that a draft ‘National Strategy on Film Tourism’ will be unveiled to provide a roadmap for harnessing the role of films in promoting tourist destinations.”

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Chief Coordinator G20 said, Tourism Working Group has the broader objectives first to present India’s rich and diverse cultural identity to the world and to promote tourism potential of India to the world. 

“We have tried to bring in sustainable tourism, eco tourism, adventure tourism etc. which is actually relevant to J&K, “Shringla added.

Shringla further said, “the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to ensure that the message of India’s G20 Presidency is taken down the grassroots level through the Jan Bhagidari process and a lot of efforts were made to sensitise the people of this country about G20.”

Chief Secretary J&K, Dr. Arun Kumar Mehta said, “the change in J&K is evident on ground with the arrival of the highest number of tourists (18.8 million) in 2022.”

He said 300 new tourist destinations will come up in Jammu and Kashmir seeing the influx of tourists with each destination providing enough to the tourists.

Dr. Mehta further said the influx of the highest number of foreign tourists to Jammu and Kashmir is a healthy sign for tourism in J&K.

During the 3rd Tourism Working Group meeting, the delegates will also visit the Art and Craft Bazaar organized by the State government showcasing local handicrafts, work of artisans, signifying the importance of community participation. The delegates will also have ‘hands-on’ experience through DIY Activities at the Craft Bazaar, the PIB release said.

During the press conference, it was also informed that the Ministry of Tourism is also promoting local products of Jammu and Kashmir by handing below souvenirs to delegates from ODOP like Paper Mache Box, Saffron from Pampore, Kahwa Cups and Brass Spoon, Walnuts from Anantnag, Shopian and Kupwara.

This G20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Srinagar aims to strengthen economic growth, preserve cultural heritage, and promote sustainable development of the region.

The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, welcomes the participation of delegates from G20 member countries, invited countries, and international organizations to collectively work towards advancing the tourism sector and achieving the UN sustainable development goals 2030, the press release said.

It said the G20 event presents a unique opportunity to highlight the tourism potential and cultural richness of the region. 

A detailed presentation about the event was also made by Additional Secretary, Rakesh Verma, 

Additional Director General PIB Region, Rajinder Chaudhry and Secretary Tourism J&K, Syed Aabid Rasheed Shah were also present at the media briefing, the PIB press release said. 

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