It could be a never ending debate if it is a set mind or a mindset that is key to the lethargic policy formulation and the subsequent implementation in Kashmir. Whatever it is, the reality is that dice seems to be loaded against the Valley.
Every week as many as 296 flights land on three airports across the state – 57 in Leh, 106 in Jammu and 133 in Srinagar. But the so called international airport at Srinagar is more of a bus stand rather than an airport of a tourist place that policy makers would habitually hawk as the heaven on earth.
So tight are the watch hours that most of the flights land within three hours which creates chaotic situations. As the crowds heading for departure drive to the fortified place, it triggers longer traffic jams often aided by a potholed road they call the highway.
Airport being subservient to the schedule and procedures fixed by the Indian Air Force, there is nothing much left to be taken care of. Any improvement in the systems and any expansion in the infrastructure is directly linked to the policies of the IAF. The security related issues crop up even on smaller things like permitting late afternoon flights and granting permission for evening take-offs.
All the three airports in the state fall very close to the LoC and the international border. Right now, while one charter lands almost daily in Leh, it is seemingly impossible to be replicated in Srinagar. Though the airport is ‘international’ it is unlikely to get private carriers and charters from other places as is being permitted in Goa and other tourist places.
The government is right now busy thinking over how the Mecca pilgrims will be managed during the day. Though the airport authority is willing to invest some more money in managing the night landing systems, everybody in the government is keeping fingers crossed if it will happen within the next two months. Given the shortage of space, rush of arrivals and departures, it seems very impractical that the Haj pilgrims can take off during the day.
But that is not the only problem that Kashmir faces. Despite massive footfalls, this season, the pricing is so expensive that even routine travellers feel is exploitative to fly out these days. While most of the tourist spots across India have proper, reasonable ticket prices, the Srinagar-Delhi sector has been fully left to the market forces which apparently are exploitative and for-money. Last week, a ticket to Srinagar was sold by a private career at Rs 10,000, a record in itself.