MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government would promote eco-tourism under a private-public partnership in areas abundant in tourist attractions, mainly the picturesque Neelum valley towards the northeast of the state capital.
This was stated by Dr Khalid Mahmood Chauhan, AJK’s recently appointed secretary tourism and archaeology, at his maiden meeting with government officials and people in the tourism industry in Athmuqam, the headquarters of Neelum district.
“Neelum Valley has been blessed with rich tourism potential, which we have to maintain zealously by conserving its environment and supporting and strengthening the well-being of its people through varied initiatives under a public-private partnership,” he said on the occasion.
Underscoring both short and long-term planning to revitalise the tourism industry, Mr Chauhan stressed upon the authorities concerned to implement, without fear or favour, the decisions taken from time to time to achieve this goal.
In this regard, he said the ban on haphazard constructions at tourist sites, particularly along the banks of the Neelum River and other water channels, should be enforced in letter and in spirit.
Apart from that, the authorities should ensure that the allowed construction is also carried out in accordance with the relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs) and building codes, he added. The secretary asked the civic bodies in Neelum to fulfil their responsibilities regarding the provision of basic civic amenities to visitors.
Proper sanitation arrangements and an effective waste disposal system should be ensured with the collaboration of the Private Tourism Association, he said.
Mr Chauhan also urged them to launch awareness campaigns against the use of plastic bottles, shopping bags, and other polythene-made items to maintain the area’s natural environment.
The meeting also discussed in detail the mechanism for collection and disposal of taxes collected from tourists, the construction of hiking tracks to maintain natural beauty, the immediate completion of under-construction camping pads in Keran and Upper Neelum village, the patchwork of the link road stemming from the main road in Keran and leading to Upper Neelum village and beyond, the construction of water supply schemes, the installation of a sewerage system, and the launch of soft loans for tourism promotion.
Implementation of the requisite SOPs to regularise the construction of guesthouses, the installation of CCTV cameras, and provision of uninterrupted internet facilities was also discussed.
Mr Chauhan said that the data of guesthouses in Neelum should be compiled and computerised to facilitate access to information required by tourists.
“In order to keep Neelum clean, all stakeholders should not only run awareness campaigns regarding cleanliness but also ensure effective cleaning arrangements at the tourist spots on a daily basis,” he said.
He said an information desk should be made functional at the valley’s entry point, apart from putting in place an effective checking regime in the interest of visitors but without causing them inconvenience.
Mr Chauhan maintained that since tourism has opened up new vistas of employment in the valley, local volunteers should play their role in making the awareness campaign to protect the natural environment a success.
Prominent among the participants in the meeting were deputy commissioner Nadeem Ahmed Janjua, SP Khawaja Muhammad Siddique, chairman district council Neelum Ghulam Mujtaba, chairman municipal committee Athmuqam Syed Tajammal Kazmi and president Private Tourism Association Raja Iftikhar.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2023