The logical question first — why was a bus carrying a group of Amarnath pilgrims, of which seven were killed and 19 injured in a deadly terrorist attack on Monday, allowed to enter a sensitive region without adequate security cover and exposing itself to grave danger? But, beyond the shock of this tragedy, what can the Amarnath attack (worst in 16 years) do to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its increasingly fragile economy, where (according to CAG) debt level has risen to Rs 55,358 crore at the end of 2015-16, close to five times of its tax and non-tax revenue.
Let’s take a look at the finances of Jammu and Kashmir. For long, the state’s economy has fallen victim for being the festival ground of terrorists, separatists and stone-pelters. The frequent curfews, internet bans and travel restrictions have nearly paralysed the economic activities there. Already in shambles, the industry in the Valley is now almost stagnant.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir’s economic survey 2016, the industrial activity came to halt due to the ongoing turmoil last year. “The industrial units in industrial estate Lachipora, Khonmoh, Baghi Ali Mardan khan, Rangret, Anantag , Aischan, Chittipora, Baramulla, Bijbehara, Kupwara, HMT etc came to halt which resulted in the idle payment of wages to the skilled labour for more than 4 months and loss of production in Kashmir valley,” it said.
That brought an estimated loss of Rs 13,291 crore during the last year comprising Rs 6,548.00-crore from private sector and Rs 6,713.00 crore from the government sector on account of hartals/curfews (130 days). Without much industrial activity, the Valley is heavily dependent on pilgrims and tourists for revenues and employment. This sector has been a saviour for even unskilled workers as it provides direct employment to guides, ponywallas, sledgewallas, travel agents; jobs in hotels/houseboats, besides those working in allied sectors like handicrafts, handlooms and transport.
But, an increasingly hostile situation in the Valley has worsened the economic scenario. According to the Jammu and Kashmir’s Economic Survey, total number of tourists in Kashmir Valley was 15.15 lakhs in 2013, which declined to 6.2 lakhs in 2016, including 2.2 lakhs Amarnath Yatra pilgrims. In 2013, the number of yatris alone was 3.53 lakhs. The 2016 survey noted that even though the tourist season, which started during 2016 in April, was in full swing up to end of 7 July, 2016, the remaining about 4 months remained completely tense and registered closure of all activities due to turmoil resulting in almost zero arrival of tourists in the Valley.
“The disappearance of tourists in the Valley during four peak months resulted in loss of business to hoteliers, restaurants, houseboats, handicrafts, poniwallas, transporters and shikara wallas etc. Due to the continuous hartals, stone throwing and curfews, there has been a loss of 64 percent of the tourist season. The economic loss caused to economy of the state due to hartals/curfews in the Valley is estimated to about more than Rs 16,000 crore,” the survey said.
This trend is no good sign for the Valley’s economy and will only cause more job losses. The barbarian attack on Amarnath pilgrims is bound to make things worse going ahead. Not many pilgrims will have the same longing to fulfill their spiritual journey, visiting the high-risk area, putting themselves at risk. The trend might not be so encouraging for the Valley’s tour operators and ponywallas.