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'Need To Get Up From Slumber Now': Jammu & Kashmir High Court Pulls Up Govt For Failure To Promote Tourism [Read Order]

Akshita Saxena
3 Nov 2020 7:11 AM GMT
Need To Get Up From Slumber Now: Jammu & Kashmir High Court Pulls Up Govt For Failure To Promote Tourism [Read Order]
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"It cannot be denied that tourism in Jammu & Kashmir is one of the major employment/revenue generator but our closed mind has failed us in exploiting this source to the optimum." The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday pulled up the Tourism Department of the Union Territory for its failure to attract tourists due to non-application of its mind. The Bench of Justice Rajesh...

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"It cannot be denied that tourism in Jammu & Kashmir is one of the major employment/revenue generator but our closed mind has failed us in exploiting this source to the optimum."

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday pulled up the Tourism Department of the Union Territory for its failure to attract tourists due to non-application of its mind.

The Bench of Justice Rajesh Bindal rapped the authorities for "keep everything close to its chest" and not disclosing information about the tourism and adventure sports facilities available in Jammu & Kashmir.

"We all know the reach of social media. Days of hard copies of brochures are gone. Prospective tourists visit websites, especially the government websites, as these provide authentic information but we have failed. Again question if of mindset. Why we want to keep everything close to our chest? We are not playing card game. Let the people all around know about the tourism and adventure sports facilities available in Jammu & Kashmir and show them that its really a 'Paradise on Earth' but one has 'to visit, see and feel to believe'. Or the idea is to create facilities not for promoting tourism but to keep it to ourselves and let the projects fail because of lesser foot fall," the Bench sternly remarked.

The High Court emphasized that the Union Territory now has cable car/rope way projects, but no information regarding the same is available on the Government's Tourism website.

"Less said the better even about the website of the J&K Tourism Department," the Bench exclaimed.

Now the Court has directed thus:

  • Tourism Department will make an extensive exercise to update the information on its website about various tourist destinations and other facilities available and also use other social media platforms to promote tourism in Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Option for making bookings online for the cable car/ ropeway should be made available.
  • The J&K Tourism Development Corporation should make such facilities available on its website, making it quite feasible and less challenging for the potential tourists for making arrangements.
  • State Government should make an effort to have an integrated portal providing all tourism related information and for online booking for all the facilities available in the Jammu & Kashmir for the potential tourists such as Hotels/ House Boats/ Huts, Adventure Sports, Cable Car/Ropeway, Travel, Cuisines etc. and such other attractions to promote the tourism activities in the State.
  • Tourists also need to be guided regarding best weather to visit any particular area.
  • One needs to keep in mind about growth of religious tourism also, hence, provide detailed information regarding that with proper guidance and package tours from Jammu or Srinagar.

"Secretary, Tourism, Law Secretary, Government of Jammu & Kashmir and Managing Director of J&K Tourism Corporation to sit together and plan a common strategy and platform to promote tourism in Jammu & Kashmir instead of sitting in offices and remain busy in Durbar moves only, and spend time to find out accommodation for its staff at Jammu and Srinagar."

The observations were made by the High Court while considering a writ petition filed by Sagar Ratna, seeking grant of license for running restaurants at three terminals of Jammu Ropeway Project.

The case primarily concerns failure of a Government Corporation in completing/ promoting a project, which would be a massive attraction for tourists.

During hearing of the matter, the Court noted that even though the project was proposed in the year 1995 however, "We are twenty five years down the line. The work started only in the year 2016 and still the same is not complete though it was to be completed in about thirty months. Apparently there are no checks and review of the working of the officers. One needs to examine as to how much was the increase in the cost of project because of delays.

The Ropeway Project became operational on July 27, 2020, however, till date, the restaurants at three stations, which could generate income not only for the Corporation but even for the Government as well in the form of GST, could not be allotted. This puts a serious question mark on the seriousness and capability of the officers 7 OWP 603/2019 concerned in planning and executing the project."

The Court noted that the J&K State Cable Car Corporation had issued five tenders inviting bids for establishment of restaurants at the Ropeway Project, but in vain. This, the Court said, was apparently because the project was not complete when the tenders were repeatedly issued, that too with the same terms and conditions. As a result, none or few had shown interest to participate.

"Drafting of a tender document with reference to the terms and conditions and the time when it should be issued, is certainly the work of experts in the field. Failure of the Corporation in not getting a successful bidder even after five efforts, has certainly put a question mark as to whether there was application of mind before putting the restaurants in public domain for outsourcing or the effort was to cause loss to the exchequer and benefit private players.

It's a business proposal. The successful bidder has to work out his economics as well. The tenders were being floated almost every month. As from June 2018 till January 2019, there were five NITs issued within a period 8 OWP 603/2019 of about 7-8 months, as if the new bidders will just crop up within a month or so or the wait was for some favorite to participate," the Bench said.

At this juncture, the Court was also sceptical about the productivity of the Government employees. It highlighted that in Jammu & Kashmir, the number of government employees with reference to the population are very high if compared with other States, but no positive results were forthcoming therefrom.

"With so much of strength of government employees, we could have really made Jammu & Kashmir, a Paradise on Earth, but failed. There is nothing wrong, if the Government is creating job opportunities for its subjects but those who are given employment also have duty to justify the salary or the wages, they receive. We need to cultivate some work culture also, instead of shirking work or passing on the buck. Or may be the people run after government jobs only for the reason that they will get paid without working.

There is need to change the mindset from wasting the public money, causing loss to the exchequer and benefit the private players to work in larger public interest and generate more revenues so that the same can be used for creating more and better infrastructure," the Bench observed.

Tender for Jammu Ropeway Project

South-Indian food chain Sagar Ratna had stated that the Corporation had indulged in favouritism and had changed the terms of tender several times, only to favour the private Respondent no. 5.

Responding to the allegations, the Corporation had submitted that the tenders were recalled numerous times as either no one participated or qualified or there was only one bidder. It was also submitted that Sagar Ratna was not technically qualified to participate in the bid.

At this juncture, the Court perused an RTI response whereby the Corporation had disclosed that both the bidders (Petitioner and Respondent No. 5) had qualified in the technical bid and the financial bids were opened and the finalization was under process.

Finding contradiction in these two statements of the Corporation, the Bench observed,

"The system of having two bids in any tendering process, namely the technical bid and the financial bid and the stages at which these are to be opened and what is to be evaluated therein, is not known to the persons concerned. Once the stand taken in response to RTI query is that the petitioner was the second highest in the two bidders as far as the bid amount is concerned, that would necessarily mean that it was technically qualified. The financial bid could be opened only after a bidder is technically qualified."

This also prompted the Court to look into the Company's antecedents, which disclosed that the Company was an 'Active Non-complaint' Corporation. As per the website of Ministry of Corporate Affairs, its last Annual General Meeting was held in 2012, and the Balance Sheet filed with the authorities was for the period ending in 2007.

"If the information available is upto date, this shows the mindset of people, which is more towards 'defying than complying' with law. Are the persons at the helm of affairs of the corporation not aware of the penal provisions of the Companies Act, for not filing statutory returns, annual returns and the Balance Sheets? They can be prosecuted besides levy of personal penalties on the persons incharge of the affairs. There are certain more compliances to be made by the State Government company. Or they may be thinking that they are immune from prosecution and penalties," the Bench cautioned.

Astonished by the state of affairs of a Government Corporation, the Court has taken up the task to see if there are any more such Government companies in Jammu & Kashmir that may be "just on papers" and "a drain on the public exchequer".

It has sought for information about all the Government companies in a tabular form, so as to ensure that public money is not misused.

The Court has also asked the authorities to scrap the tender in question and issue a fresh one, specifying in details the facilities available or the time period during which the same will be available to the prospective bidders.

Case Title: M/s Hotel Jammu Premier Pvt. Ltd v. State of J&K & Ors.

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