JK to lift restrictions on Gurez Valley visit

To scrap permit system for domestic tourists

The State government is mulling to do away with permit required for visiting the picturesque Gurez Valley in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district as security agencies, including the Army, have agreed to a fresh proposal in this regard, albeit with some conditions. The government is likely to de-notify Gurez from the list of areas declared as ‘protected’  and ‘prohibited’ under the controversial Public Safety Act-1978.
Informed sources told Greater Kashmir that the State Home department Tuesday evening held a high-level meeting here to discuss a proposal to do away with the permit required by domestic tourists who intend to travel to the Gurez Valley, which is surrounded by lush green trees and mountains.
“As per the new proposal, the permit shall be required  by domestic tourists only for four villages situated on the Line of Control in Gurez while there shall be no such requirement for remaining 24 villages in the Valley,” sources said.
At present, all persons, except the residents of Gurez, require permission from Deputy Commissioner Bandipora to visit these villages.
During the meeting, the sources said, the Army didn’t oppose the proposal but sought safeguards under the evolving mechanism to prevent entry of ‘anti-national elements’ to the Gurez Valley. The Army representative, however, strongly opposed any move to allow trekking to the area arguing that “it would be difficult to monitor the trekkers’ movement in the forested area.”
“We have no problem if domestic tourists travel in vehicles to Gurez without any permit,” the Army representative told the meeting.
Sources said to do away with the permit system for the foreigners, it is the Union Home Ministry that has to take a final call.
“Since foreign affairs pertains to the Centre, the MHA has to decide on waiving off the requirement,” they said.
Under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) order, 1958, the MHA has declared 50 areas of J&K including Gurez as protected—the areas where no foreigner can enter without the permit. The Jammu and Kashmir government has also brought some areas under PSA to regulate entry of people, other than local residents.
Section (3) and (4) of the PSA empowers the government to regulate the entry of persons into any area notified as protected and prohibited.
Sources also disclosed that the Home department would shortly convene another meeting to discuss modalities of the new mechanism for Gurez visit.
According to them, identity cards of domestic tourists may be treated as permit once the modalities are fixed.
When contacted, Secretary Tourism, Shailendra Kumar admitted that the proposal for doing away with the permit system to Gurez is being discussed. He said the move would bring the area on tourism map.
Deputy Commissioner BandiporaDr Shah Faesal said the proposal is under consideration of the Home department.
In April this year, the government did away with the permit system for domestic tourists visiting Leh.
Before 1947, Gurez was a popular destination for foreign tourists. Former US president Franklin D Roosevelt is believed to have visited the area before becoming the President. JawaharLal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, accompanied by Sheikh Abdullah, also visited the area in 40’s.

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