Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel lied to Parliament about the impact of the prolonged security lockdown and other restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir on tourism in the region, according to information unearthed by two Right to Information activists.
In an article published by The Wire on Friday, academic Aniket Aga and journalist Chitrangada Choudhury wrote that Patel had concealed important information about the state of Kashmir’s economy while responding to a question from Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on November 19.
The Ministry of Tourism had sent Kareem’s questions to the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department on November 14, and received a written note the following day.
The tourism department acknowledged that tourism activities had been disrupted by the restrictions imposed by the Indian government. “After issuance of security advisory by the government of Jammu and Kashmir on August 2, sharp decline of tourist arrival has been witnessed,” it added. “The tourist related infrastructure viz hotels, huts, guest houses, paying guest houses and houseboats got abruptly shut and the occupancy came to a very low level. The communications disruptions became one of the hiccups to restore the flow of tourists in Jammu and Kashmir which continued till restoration of the mobile services followed by withdrawal of the security advisory by the government on October 9.”
Kareem had asked the government about the percentage of reduction in revenue from tourism in August, September and October. The J&K Tourism Department said “there has been a 71% average decline in revenue from tourism in J&K during the month of August 2019 to October 2019”. However, Patel reportedly told Parliament: “The information on revenue received from tourism is not maintained.”
The Union minister also allegedly did not provide Parliament the number of tourists who visited Kashmir. He reportedly withheld the tourism department’s caveat that “the maximum tourists who visited J&K during the months of August, September and October includes pilgrims of Sri Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu”.
Elamaram Kareem said Prahlad Singh Patel’s response had seemed like a big lie when the minister spoke in Parliament. “Now [the RTI] shows that the government is openly lying to Parliament and the people,” he told The Wire. “I am going to file a privilege motion.”
Former Lok Sabha Secretary General PDT Achary said the minister’s behaviour was inexcusable. He claimed it was a fit case for a breach of privilege motion since “deliberately concealing information amounts to lying to Parliament”.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Sheikh Ashiq told the news website that the regional economy had lost more than Rs 15,000 crore since August, and estimated that tourism and linked livelihoods had declined 90%.
Last month, a news report claimed that the number of domestic tourists in Kashmir fell 87% between August and November, compared to the same period in 2018. The number of international tourists fell 82% during the four-month period – from 19,167 in 2018 to just 3,413 in 2019.