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Two years subsidy package sought for GB tourism industry

Islamabad

June 2, 2020

Islamabad:As the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a serious blow to tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan, the government should announce a two years subsidy package for the tourism industry to help it recover from the crisis, said former chief minister of the region Sher Jehan Mir.

“The subsidy initiative will help restore tourist activities in the region and thus, increasing its government’s income generating capacity and earning huge foreign exchange for the country,” Sher Jehan Mir told ‘The News’.

The former chief minister said the Nature had endowed GB with scenic beauty, lush green valleys, lakes, sky high peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and archaeological sites and therefore, the region had huge tourism potential.

He said the tourist facilities created in GB were quite few, while there was a shortage of food supply chains and proper hotels for tourists in the upper reaches of the region. “All tourist sites are required to be developed properly and secured to ensure uninterrupted flow of tourists. Also, there should be better communication, first aid and rescue facilities for tourists,” he said.

Sher Jehan Mir also called for the integration of tourist support facilities by the use of technology and said collaboration with the Digital Pakistan initiative could be helpful for the purpose. He said the abolition of the NOC condition for foreign tourists to visit GB would promote tourism.

“Pakistan should relax visa policy for tourists like Thailand, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan besides ensuring their safety and comfort during stay in the region,” he said. About the hydropower potential of GB, the former chief minister said the region’s run-of-the-river power production capacity was around 50,000 megawatts against the national requirement of around 25,000 megawatts.

“If hydroelectricity is produced in GB at the optimum scale, it will be very cheap, cater to the people and industry’s needs and provide enough financial sources for the region’s development outlay,” he said.

Sher Jehan Mir said water resources of GB should be harnessed properly so that the maximum benefits could be derived from the natural gift. “This alone will be sufficient to offset the financial budgetary deficit of GB forever. It will be too good if the federal government takes the initiative and start hydropower projects in GB out of PSDP allocations or through a joint venture with private or public companies from China as per the past practice. This project would definitely start paying dividends within a few years, besides making the environment friendly and conducive for health,” he said.

He, however, warned that climatic changes and melting of glaciers at a greater speed in GB had increased the impending dangers of glacial lakes outburst floods. Suggesting pre-emptive measures, the former chief minister asked the federal government to build dams and water reservoirs in region, improve the efficiency of the advanced flood warning system to prevent

damage to public life and property and animals, and begin campaigns through NGOs and NDMA to mobilise people. As GB has large deposits of minerals like marble, gold, ruby, diamond, molybdenum and uranium, he called for their exploration and export. “Though molybdenum and uranium are very expensive and are rarely available in the world, we [GB] have their ample deposits in upper Gojal and Darel areas,” he said.

Sher Jehan Mir said molybdenum, which melted at 2623 centigrade and was used in nuclear installations and aviation industry, was reportedly sold in the world market at $75,000 per ton in crude form. He said there was an urgent need for carrying out a geological survey of all mining sites of GB so that a realistic assessment of actual deposits could be made.

“This initiative will also facilitate ways to start mining projects in collaboration with local and foreign companies,” he said. The former chief minister said although extraction of precious stones through indigenous methods by local miners and traders had become a common practice, the mining industry had not been able to make any major contribution to local and national economies due to lack of hi-tech equipment and expertise.

“There should be a comprehensive and candid mineral policy to support local mining industry,” he said. Sher Jehan Mir said once the geographical survey was carried out, the GB government might local and foreign companies to install various mining projects at various sites of the region on public and private partnership basis to derive the maximum benefit from those projects.

He, however, said care should be taken while undertaking such ventures to avoid recurrence of incidents like ‘Rako Diq Mines’ of Balochistan. Extraction and export of precious metals and other minerals can be a great source of income for GB.