Srinagar G20 Meet Puts J&K on Global Map; Chief Coordinator Speaks

The third G20 Tourism Working Group Meeting under India's presidency will be held in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in India between May 22 and 24. The three-day event will be held in the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar, which marks the first international mega-event to be held in the region since August 2019, when the state was divided into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh — by the Indian government.

The G20 meeting in Jammu and Kashmir will showcase the region's tourism to the world. In the run up to the crucial event, a range of captivating tourism related activities aimed at showcasing the mesmerising charm and immense potential of Jammu and Kashmir have already been started. Various activities including the hot air balloon, cycling and trekking expedition and other activities on the banks of world-renowned Dal lake in J&K were inaugurated.

These activities demonstrate normalcy in the region, which was once synonymous with mindless violence and propaganda. As the Indian government led by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the historic step of abrogation of the special status given to the state, the violence has ended, stone-pelting became a thing of past and shut downs (hartaals) were rendered defunct. The youth woke up to the reality and saw the true agenda of separatist, secessionist, and terrorist elements. It's clear that 70-year-long era of favouritism, nepotism, and terrorism is as dead as a dodo.

To further allay security concerns ahead of the mega event, elaborate security arrangements have been put in place to ensure the G20 meeting is carried out smoothly. The elite marine commandos called 'MARCOS' and NSG will be deployed to secure lakes and rivers in the days leading up to the G20 event being held on May 22-24 in Srinagar. The G20 meeting in Srinagar will show the world the ground reality of Jammu and Kashmir and the potential it holds on myriad of sectors — ranging from tourism to employment and beyond.

J&K Meeting in Srinagar
J&K Meeting in Srinagar

Harsh Vardhan Shringla - Chief Coordinator of India's G20 Presidency 2023 - spoke to International Business Times, Singapore, about how the G20 meeting in J&K is a significant milestone and harbinger of growth. Below are the edited excerpts from the interview.

Q: How significant is the act of holding a G20 meeting in Kashmir?

Harsh Vardhan Shringla: While launching the G20 logo and the website in November last year, our Hon'ble Prime Minister had made it clear that G20 is not only the central government's event. He had said that events related to the G20 will not be limited to Delhi or a few places only. Each of our state has its own characteristics, its own heritage, its own culture, its own beauty, its own aura and its own hospitality. Therefore, holding an event in Jammu & Kashmir for us is as significant as G20 meetings in other parts of the country.

About Kashmir it is said, 'Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.' [If there is a heaven on earth, it is this, it this, it is this...] So this meeting is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase heaven on earth to our G20 delegates under the Tourism Working Group. It is in sync with the new found aspirations of the people the the Union Territory.

How big an opportunity is the G20 summit in general for India?

It is the largest diplomatic event to ever be hosted by India. As G20 meetings take the delegates to every region of the country, it is an opportunity to showcase our rapid transformation in terms of:

1. State-of-the-art infrastructure & efficient logistics

2. Robust digital economy by leveraging Digital Public Goods

3. Large-scale projects to produce clean energy for a sustainable future

Witnessing all these things first-hand will boost the confidence of the world in India.

In the 100 meetings held so far, which is just half of the total number of meetings planned, over 12,000 delegates from 110 nationalities have visited India, so the art, culture, and local products of India have found international exposure.

As the largest democracy; the fifth largest economy in the world; and one of the few bright spots amidst the challenging economic times; there are natural expectations from India to deliver a global leadership role.

G20 Summit during India's Presidency is also an opportunity to voice the concerns of the Global South, and create more resilient systems to ensure food, fuel, fertiliser security; climate finance, debt restructuring, accelerating progress on SDGs, and advancing financial inclusion through DPI, which are the few important focus areas for us in this regard.


What opportunities does the G20 summit bring for J&K's tourism and employment?

The meeting will put the special products of J&K on a global map and boost their global demand. Handicrafts of Kashmir, saffron (unique to Kashmir), woollen products especially pashmina shawls are renowned all over the world, and yet there remains a substantial scope for expansion given the increasing focus on infrastructure. For example, the work on Zojila tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh is going on at impressive speed. Additionally, by increasing energy capacity, MSMEs will also thrive, for which hydropower of the region is being harnessed.

In 2022, some 1.80 crore tourists visited Jammu and Kashmir. So, from the tourism perspective there are unique local products, pristine valleys, spiritual centres, and seasonal blossoming in the beautiful gardens, which can only be witnessed by being there in person. There are great opportunities for the youth in the floriculture sector, especially export.

The educated youth of Jammu & Kashmir are well positioned to utilise these opportunities and set up businesses such as home-stays, shops, restaurants, pitching the unique products of the region to the tourists by branding them and highlighting their benefits. Today, they can easily interact with the rest of the world and take advantage of e-commerce as the transaction & transparency of payments have increased due to the proliferation of digital payments in India.

Northeast has hosted about a dozen G20 meetings in which they showcased their unique strengths and potential. When delegates, who might also be tourists or investors of the future, visited these relatively less exposed places, they saw the government's efforts manifested in state-of-the-art infrastructure. These meetings have produced significant investor interest in the region. It is fair to expect similar results for Jammu & Kashmir.

So I can say with full confidence, on the basis of what we've seen so far in the meetings, that these G20 delegates visiting India during its presidency can also become the investors of tomorrow. Hence it is a huge opportunity for India and for Indians.

J&K reborn

As three years have passed since the abrogation of Article 370 and as India celebrates 'Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav' (an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements) the people of J&K are reaping the benefits of various schemes and state programmes deployed by both the Centre and J&K governments. The G20 meeting furthers the agenda of peace and prosperity in the once-disputed, violence-ridden land that has so bravely stood the test of time and has emerged stronger than ever.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led administration has undertaken several initiatives to put J&K on the global map. Even before the G20 meeting, many initiatives were taken to foster peace and development in the region. From cracking down heavily on terrorism to scrapping arbitrary laws, the J&K underwent major transformations since August 2019, which allowed it to be in the eye of global investors, such as Dubai's Lulu Group and Emaar. Many arbitrary laws were scrapped to bring equality and give women opportunities in the fields of administration, police, entrepreneurship and sports.