“Play proactive role in addressing negative publicity about J&K”

The Ministry of Tourism should play a proactive role in effectively addressing the negative publicity attached to the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir as a troubled region, including persuading countries to remove their advisories against it, a parliamentary panel said in its report.

The panel also noted with regret that even after its recommendation to set up an effective monitoring mechanism, the Ministry, instead of taking effective steps to address the recurring problem of delays and cost overruns in implementation of road network projects in pilgrimage destinations and border towns in J&K, has been taking up the matter with different Ministries “as a routine work, more as a ritual”.

In the report, the Committee said, “…The Ministry should play a proactive role in effectively addressing the negative publicity attached to the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir as a troubled region from time to time through publicity material, creative and visual media, to ensure promoting the State as a major and peaceful tourist attraction.”

It said it would like the Ministry to prevail upon the countries to remove their advisories against the Union Territory as a supplementary effort while addressing the negative publicity.

The Committee also recommended that there was an urgent need to keep the airfares for J&K during the peak season under reasonable limit. It asked the Tourism Ministry to work with the Civil Aviation and Finance Ministries to address the issue of multiple taxes on air travel in India so that the incidence of tax on air travel is lowered and the airfares are kept under reasonable limits.

To provide safety against accidents to the tourist vehicles, especially after sunset till sunrise, it suggested that mobile ambulances should be made available with a facility to provide immediate first aid to injured tourists on the spot and carry them to the nearest hospital for treatment. A toll-free helpline number can also be launched to call such ambulances within few minutes, it said.

In a separate report, the panel censured the Ministry of Tourism for underutilisation of funds released and its inability to formulate appropriate policy measures for spurring higher investment in the sector, despite its recommendations.

“The Committee had expected the Ministry to formulate appropriate policy measures for spurring up investment in the tourism sector…The reply of the Ministry fails to address the core concern,” it said adding this recommendation assumes added significance in view of the fact that the growth momentum in the sector has witnessed a huge slump in the wake of the lockdown induced by the pandemic, causing significant disruptions in the economy.

The Committee, therefore, recommended that the Ministry should quickly formulate an appropriate policy for getting more investments so that the growth momentum in this vital sector could be revived.

For greater transparency and accountability, the Panel has also suggested that a web-based monitoring system be developed to monitor the progress level of the projects sanctioned under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, with a feature of uploading photos and videos made by the Project Monitoring Committee during its visit to the project site.

It noted that against ₹627.40 crore approved in December for the 10 projects sanctioned under the rural circuit during 2018-19, only ₹45.01 crore has been released so far “which indicates that the Ministry has not exercised due diligence in its Budget formulation which may result in massive financial under-performance under this head”.

There has been also substantial underutilisation of funds released against four out of the five projects under the scheme of development of Buddhist Circuit, it said, adding that in a country like ours, where resources are scarce, under-utilisation of nearly 50% of allocation is a matter of great concern.

“The Committee would, therefore, recommend that the Ministry should at least now take appropriate corrective measures to address the factors which have led to the financial under-performance and time overruns.”

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