(Mehbooba Mufti’s assertion that Horticulture and Handicrafts have more potential than Tourism is a very bold statement based on reality which,if followed up honestly could make Kashmir’s economy self-reliant)
Before 1947, Kashmir was self-reliant in many ways. However, over the years it has become totally dependent on outsiders in every respect. The main reason has been misplaced priorities. It is for the first time in recent years that a top politician has admitted on the floor of the house that Horticulture and Handicrafts have more potential in the State than Tourism. Till now every politician would climb a pulpit to declare that the Tourism is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. This was in spite of the fact that the Tourism does not constitute more than 7% of the GDP of the State. Kashmir has always had an agriculture based economy and in recent years, horticulture has grown up considerably. There are umpteen other areas like floriculture, fisheries, forest based products and so on which could be the mainstay of the economy. Tourism can always be an additional activity.
There are no two opinions that with the possession of extensive potential, Tourism has tremendous possibilities of development in Kashmir.However, apart from the basic requirements of potential, physical accessibility, and infrastructure prescribed under the concepts of area development and physical planning for tourism, there is the most fundamental requirement of the political stability of the area. No one wants to go to an area which is proclaimed all over the world as the most dangerous place, Asia’s nuclear hot spot and so on. Every second day there is news all over the world about blasts, encounters, and other incidents regarding Kashmir. The most important primary consideration for a popular tourist spot is “Peace”! In view of this uncertain situation, the tourist arrivals show a swing effect. These keep on rising and falling from time to time. Sometimes there is a boon and supposedly a million tourists arrive while as other times there is a complete drought with hardly any arrivals.
In view of this it is not advisable to make Tourism as the so called “backbone” of the economy. Such an economy can collapse with every upheaval. Tourism for the present can at best be an additional economic activity and not the main base. Once Kashmir enjoys the real and settled peace, Tourism can become one of the key activities for its economy.Till such time putting all eggs in Tourism Basket is suicidal.
Historically, Kashmir has an agriculture based economy. More than 70% people are involved in agriculture and horticulture. Handicrafts come next and the main income even from this sector is from the exports and not from retail sales to the tourists visiting the valley. According to Export Promotion Council of India, the handicraft export, especially of the carpets grew manifold during the upheaval of nineties. Carpet looms spread into the rural areas and some of the local export houses started operating from Delhi. Same was the situation with horticulture especially the export of apples from the state. Hundreds of crores worth apples and some other fruit are exported from Kashmir to rest of India. Even some factories are exporting apple juice concentrate to Germany and some other European countries.
The possibilities in Agriculture, Horticulture and some other related fields are immense. If the rulers give up the Tourism “obsession”, they can really work wonders. The basic requirement is the will to undertake modernization of these fields with active private sector participation from within as well as outside state. Let us take Floriculture. There are immense possibilities for cut flowers. A project had been started some years back but it has not taken off in full swing. The main hurdle had been an organization for marketing. Some time back some negotiations were held with some private agencies for cut flower marketing but these remained inconclusive. Incidentally, Bangalore in 2011 exported 3 million roses on Valentine’s Day that accounts for 40% of the World Flower Trade pegged at $ 100 billion! It may be worthwhile to explore these fields rather than spend crores on a 15 day so called Tulip Festival!
Similarly, Kashmir Trout has immense possibilities. One needs to take lessons from the Chilean farmers. Chile exports Salmon worth more than $ 1.3 billion. Kashmir’s trout was brought from Scotland. We have both Rainbow and Brown varieties. One could have dozens of farms like the one in Kokernag established with European Union assistance. Once the production is enough, the same can be exported to most of the five star hotels in India or even abroad. The requirement is degutting machine, deep freezers and dry ice machine. Again everything will depend upon marketing for which tie ups can be arranged with outside buyers.
Fruit has no limits. Apart from Apples which have been Kashmir’s specialty from ages, there are some unique fruit which the Agriculture University has introduced. These include the Kiwi Fruit which was introduced few years back. India imports Kiwi fruit from Italy and New Zealand. Again the trade involves billions of dollars. There could be a dozen Apple Juice concentrate plants exporting the same to Europe and other places including Middle East which imports the same from Europe.
In fact, Kashmir has no limit in agriculture, horticulture, and forest based products. One could easily set up a few perfumeries keeping in view the lavender which grows in the wild! There are so many other areas. Just burning walnut shells in a controlled way produces finest Carbon which is used to make Carbon Rods for Nuclear Reactors! Now that the Chief Minister has spoken about it, she needs to follow it up on the ground by personal supervision and monitoring. The immediate requirement is to restore the dignity of manual labour among the youth and make them forget the slavish mentality of government jobs at the lowest level! The way things are going, “Self-rule” seems a distant dream! It can wait but not “Self-sufficiency”! That is the need of the hour. In the alternative, Kashmiris may become virtual slaves dependent on outsiders for generations!
Mohammad Ashraf I.A.S. (Retired),Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir