Delegates of all G20 countries, barring China, arrived in Srinagar on Monday for the third working group meeting on tourism - a much-anticipated event for which authorities have made extensive security arrangements and spruced up the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
The delegates were given a traditional Indian welcome at the Srinagar airport with performances by local artistes, and the three-day meet kicked off with a side event on 'Film Tourism for Economic Growth and Cultural Preservation'.
All the G20 countries except China participated. This meeting had an overwhelming response. We had 61 delegates here. All countries except China are present here, India's G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant told reporters at a press conference.
Kashmir, where tourism is a major industry, is embarking on an exciting journey with the G20 event in the Valley and it will send a strong message against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Union ministers who have been camping here to oversee the event said.
Stringent security arrangements have been made to ensure that the event concludes incident-free. The elite National Security Guard and Marine commandoes were helping police and paramilitary forces to secure the venues including the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), while the Boulevard Road around it has been made a no-go zone for three days.
There was a massive deployment of security forces on the route taken by the delegates and the Airport Road to Dalgate stretch.
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Kant downplayed the absence of Chinese delegates, saying travel and tourism is a private sector activity and trade delegations from several countries had participated.
Officials said it is not that all invitees attend every meeting and some have skipped those held in other parts of the country also.
Asked about the negative travel advisories of many foreign countries on Jammu and Kashmir, India's G20 Sherpa said the "officials from G7 countries were participating and they would not have come here if there were any such advisory.
Speaking at the event, Union Minister of State in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, said Kashmir has undergone a change and there are no takers for strike calls anymore.
Markets across Kashmir, including in the city centre here, were open throughout the day and there were no restrictions on the movement of people or transport except for traffic diversions on Boulevard Road.
"If such an event (G20) was held earlier, a strike call would be given from Islamabad (Pakistan) and shops on Residency Road (in the city centre of) Srinagar would close. Now there is no hartal even if the call for hartal has come from here or there," he said.
Singh said the common Kashmiris want to move on "as they have lost two generations (due to militancy)".
The MoS expressed hope the delegates would become Kashmir's ambassadors and highlight the positive situation in the Valley.
At a press conference later, Singh, replying to a question by a French journalist, said security measures for such a high-profile event were common to even countries like France.
Singh said holding the G20 event in Srinagar was an achievement in itself.
"I am sure the delegates coming here will be able to falsify the perception that is sought to be created by vested interests. The common man wants to move on.
"He wants development and progress. He no longer wants to be part of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. He has seen the development across the country and avenues for progress under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. He does not want to miss the bus," Singh said.
Union Tourism and Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy said film tourism has emerged as a powerful medium to promote the tourism industry and the government is chalking out a comprehensive strategy for its growth in J-K.
Describing Srinagar as one of the most beautiful cities in the country, Reddy said it was India's one of the oldest cities as well.
He said Kashmir was embarking on an exciting journey with the G20 event in the Valley, but tourism promotion was not only about showing the beauty of the destination but also preserving its culture.
He said the government is planning to hold a global tourism investment summit in the country and will soon declare a national tourism policy as well.
He also said there is tremendous scope for promoting spiritual tourism in J-K.
Reddy said the Centre is allowing 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in tourism as "our idea is that without private investment, we cannot become a global destination".
India's G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant described Kashmir as the finest destination for film shooting.
He said the Kashmir Valley has been attracting filmmakers due to its unique nature, which has something for everyone.
"Kashmir is not just a destination but a unique experience. Kashmir is an amazing destination because of its Alpine forests, streams, etc. There is no better destination than Kashmir as it has something to offer to everyone. It has everything," Kant said.
"We believe in peace and prosperity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes tourism has a multiplier effect and it is a job creator. This destination is unique because no Bollywood movie was complete without a shoot in Kashmir. No romance in India was complete without Kashmir," he said.
"We will help you to bring more and more romance and glamour to your films," Kant said addressing the event.
The event was also addressed by Ram Charan the star of the movie RRR' which recently won an Oscar for the best original song.
Charan said it was a surreal feeling coming back to the Valley.
The actor later shook a leg on the Oscar-winning track Naatu Naatu with the Korean ambassador to India, Chang Jae-bok.
G20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla stressed that not much should be read into the absence of some delegations as 43 countries and organisations had been invited to various meetings under India's G20 presidency and not all had attended each one of them.
So, it will be missing the woods for the trees if we read too much into one country not coming to our meeting, he said when asked about Saudi Arabia not sending an official delegation to the meeting.
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