Tuesday, January 13, 2009

War is no option: India Inc

Mallya for promotion of tourism, hops cultivation in Kashmir 
Naseer A Ganai 
Srinagar, Jan 13: Buoyed by recent turnout in elections, Kingfisher Airlines chairman Vijay Mallya today said he would start international flights from Kashmir, open an industrial plant in Zainakote, promote tourism by introducing Kashmir in Europe and re-start hops cultivation to generate employment in the valley. Mallya, who is also chairman of the UB Group- a multi-national conglomerate of over 60 companies- said India Inc doesn’t want war with Pakistan as it would affect the economy.
 Mallya, who is on a visit to Kashmir, while talking to reporters here on Monday expressed his views over a range of issues including Kashmir elections and cricket and said the turnout in Kashmir elections has surprised many people in India. “Every one of us was watching Kashmir elections keenly and the voter turnout surprised all of us. I think it is good beginning for promotion of tourism in Kashmir,” Mallya said.
 Vijay Mallya is the son of a famous industrialist Vittal Mallya. He talked at length about his family’s association with Kashmir and Abdullahs. He described Omar Abdullah as young and dynamic and hoped that the transition would augur well for the State.
 He said his airlines, Kingfisher, would apply to the Government of India soon to seek permission to open international flight to Dubai directly from Srinagar. Presently, the Kingfisher Airlines is connecting Srinagar to various cities of India including Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Pune, and Lucknow. He said at the Srinagar Airport today he saw Air India flight and inquired about it.
 “I was told that flight was carrying Kashmiri pilgrims who had gone to Makkah to perform Hajj. I thought if Air India can do it, why can’t we,” he said, adding that he has given directions for securing the necessary sanction from the Government of India to operate international flight from Srinagar to Dubai. The Kingfisher Airlines, he said, was also interested to start flights from Srinagar to Jammu, Leh to Jammu, and Srinagar to Chandigarh and hoped that it would commence preferably after April 2009.
 “Whatever commitments I have given to people of Jammu and Kashmir in past I have fulfilled them all and in future I would continue to do my best,” he said.
 Mallya said the State of Jammu and Kashmir has “tremendous potential for tourism” and he would project Kashmir in Europe. He said tourism specific packages would be given and his staff would be asked to sell Kashmir in Europe and other countries.
 Asked now when the situation in Kashmir has improved would he ask the government to repeal the Disturbed Areas Act, he said he was not competent to comment on it and has no interest in “getting into State politics.” He said after Mumbai attacks many countries issued travel advisories to their citizens cautioning them against traveling to India but it has not stopped tourist flow. Economic recession, he said, has made India and Jammu Kashmir State as cheaper places with good facilities as attractive options. 
 Tourism, Mallya said has not been marketed as it should have been and in the western countries people only know about Rajasthan and have no information about others parts of India including beautiful Kashmir valley.
 He said he would not deny that Mumbai attacks had an impact on tourism but “I should say it had no profound impact.” He said India offers quality at cheap price and it would continue to attract tourists. He said time has come when places other than Rajasthan should be introduced in the West. “Mountains of Kashmir are incomparable and I see lot of opportunities here for tourism and I would use my Airline to be carrier for promotion of tourism in Kashmir,” he said.
 Referring to his family’s ties with Abdullah family, he said his father had met Sher-i-Kashmir (Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah) in 1972 and they had become good friends. His father had started hops cultivation in Shilvak area here. “It was successful project and Sher-i-Kashmir had taken keen interest in the cultivation,” he added. The hop (Humulus Lupulus) is a hardy, perennial plant which produces annual vines from a permanent root stock (crown).
 He said hop cultivated in Kashmir were greatly appreciated as it has high quality acid value and has great taste. He however said it was destroyed by insurgents when militancy erupted in Kashmir. He would re-start the cultivation, he said. He said he will also see whether pharmaceutical plant that was producing optrix in Zainkote industrial area could be restarted. He said the plant was providing employment but it was closed down due to uncertain conditions. He said if the plant would restart it will generate employment for Kashmiri youth and only Kashmiris will be employed in the plant.
 Commenting on present India-Pakistan stand-off, Mallya said that India Inc doesn’t want war with Pakistan. He reiterated that war is not an option and even the Foreign Minister has stated it. He said no one is for war as it affects the economy but he hastily added that he has no comments on the government decision of cancelling Indian cricket team’s tour to Pakistan. “Why should I comment on the wisdom of the government,” he added. He said there were many players in the Indian Premier League from Pakistan.
 Mallya described Satyam episode as unfortunate. However he said the incident shouldn’t be used as an example to look at suspiciously on all companies of India. Mallya said his group has set highest standards.
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