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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Loot on Republic Day: Jammu-Srinagar Rs 35,210; Delhi-New York Rs 32,961

Extortionist airlines charge Delhi-New York fair for Jammu-Srinagar travel

Mehbooba writes to Civil Aviation MinisterRaju, seeks immediate remedial action

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Jan 27: Taking undue advantage of the blockage of Srinagar-Jammu national highway— the only surface communication link between Kashmir valley and rest of the country and the world—all the airlines operating in Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi sector have stupendously raised their fairs, bringing entire winter sports activity in Gulmarg and Pahalgam to a standstill.

After three days of total suspension of the operations, all the 18 scheduled flights operated at Srinagar airport on Friday.  However, those lucky to get a ticket for Srinagar-Jammu had to buy a seat in distress for minimum of Rs 10,000. Even as the incoming passengers like PDP’s MLC Zaffar Iqbal Manhas and the outgoing VIPs like Chief Minister’s maternal uncle Sartaj Madni, who flew to Jammu, and brother Tassaduq Mufti, who boarded the last flight for New Delhi, didn’t look much perturbed, the ordinary passengers complained that “extortion” by the airlines had become order of the day in Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi sector.

Informed sources told STATE TIMES that many of the domestic and international tourists, who had planned to arrive in the Valley for participation in different snow sports activities in the fourth week of January have cancelled their bookings. “Even those who had booked their tickets in advance have failed to arrive in as most of the flights to Srinagar have been cancelled due to bad weather. With total impunity, the airlines converted the commuters’ distress into an opportunity to loot. They hiked fairs stupendously, making them not affordable even for the international tourists, let alone the routine home travellers”, said a source associated with the tourism industry.

Sources in the Department of Tourism confirmed that a major winter sports event that was scheduled to be inaugurated at Gulmarg has been postponed to February 1st. Those invited by the Chief Minister’s office—but later requested to wait for the next invitation— included retired IAS officer Parvez Dewan who has served as Secretary Tourism in Farooq Abdullah’s Government and also Secretary Tourism and Chairman-cum-MD of Indian Tourism Development Corporation before functioning as Advisor to J&K Governor last year.

STATE TIMES has learned that the airline companies have meteorically hiked their fairs in Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi sector immediately after the highway was closed for traffic due to heavy snowfall and landslides at many places and many of the flights were cancelled in this sector due to bad weather and poor visibility at Srinagar airport. Some of the travel operators alleged that the “artificial crisis” was partly created by different “unscrupulous” airlines.

For the only flight between Jammu and Srinagar on January 26, which would leave via Delhi and land in Srinagar at 0950 hours on January 27, Vistara fixed fair of Rs 35,210. This was far higher than different airlines charging for Delhi-London and equal to the fair for Delhi-New York travel.

For its Delhi-London flight No: 571 on January 28, Qattar Airways fair was Rs 19,005/- For Delhi-New York, its fair was Rs 32,961/- For a Delhi-New York flight on January 28, Jet Airways offered tickets at Rs 35,291/- i.e. same as Vistara fixed for Jammu-Srinagar.

“This is brazen loot and extortion of which State Consumer Commission and other institutions should have taken serious cognizance. But the airlines do it with impunity as they don’t have an iota of fear or accountability from the State authorities. Even the Consumer Commission has been rendered defunct since last year”, said a tour operator.

Highly-placed sources privy to the development disclosed to STATE TIMES that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti took serious notice of the extortion and sent a communication to the Union Minister of Civil Aviation P.Ashok Gajapathi Raju requesting him to pull up the extortionist airlines and discourage them against bringing the tourism industry in the State to a halt. Top officials were still waiting for a positive response from New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Srinagar-based tour operators complained that without making the airlines accountable, Directorate of Tourism teams swooped down on the poor travel agents, seized their documents and directed them to appear before the authorities in Srinagar. “This is another act of extortion and blackmailing of the poor tour operators and travel agents. The officers know it well that it is the airlines in Delhi and Mumbai who raise the rates. Our quota has been frozen several days back. We have not sold any tickets in the last four days. Customers are forced by the companies to buy the tickets online against Rs 14,000 to Rs 40,000 for Srinagar-Delhi”, said a travel agent.


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