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Dip in tourist footfall in Katra post abrogation of Article 370, Vande Bharat train brings hope

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: October 4, 2019  | 19:32 IST

By Saloni Bhatia Katra (J&K), Oct 4 (PTI) Tourist footfall in Katra that saw a dip in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in August, had marginally improved during Navratri, said those living in the region, who welcomed the Vande Bharat Express on Thursday amid chants of "Jai Mata Di". The train, which was flagged off by Union Home Minister Amit Shah from Delhi, is expected to give a boost to the tourist-driven economy of the region. "There was a low turnout in August and September following the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. The footfall has marginally increased during Navratri," a railway official said on Friday. He added that while the footfall was expected to go up, the infrastructure might not be robust enough to cater to the burgeoning numbers. The station premises had very few toilets, which operated on the pay-and-use basis, he said, while indicating that the waiting rooms and other facilities needed to be upgraded to accommodate a large number of tourists. However, Shakoor, who takes people for Vaishno Devi "darshan" on horseback, said the crowd this year was still not as much as he had expected. "In August, I had gone back to my village Reasi because there were no tourists. I returned just before Navratri. The crowd is back but it is less than last year," he said, hoping that the new train would bring him more business in the days to come. A person working at the famous Chunni Lal Dry Fruits shop, one of the oldest shops in the region, said the business had seen a 70-per cent drop since August. "Earlier, September was the peak season for us, but this year, it is different. Even during Navratri, there are very few tourists. Maybe people do not know yet that there is peace here," he said. Another shopkeeper echoed the same sentiments. "The situation was not good in August and September. Navratri has brought back some of the lost business but it is far from better," said Sanjay Singh, while hoping that the Delhi-Katra Vande Bharat Express will bring in more tourists. The train, also known as Train 18, cuts down the travel time between Delhi and Katra to eight hours from the previous 12 hours. It will run on all days of the week barring Tuesdays. Serpentine queues were seen at the Vaishno Devi shrine with cries of "Jai Mata Di" resonating in the air. At the Katra station, while alighting from trains, people were seen chanting "Jai Mata Di". A volunteer posted at one of the counters for assisting pilgrims said, "We have seen 40,000-50,000 pilgrims coming every day during Navratri and the numbers rise over the weekend. Before Navratri, the crowd was thin, but now it has picked up." Tilak Raj, a juice seller who plies his trade on the stretch between Adhukuwari and the Vaishno Devi shrine said the crowd was less this year and and the events of August had taken a toll on his business. "Last year, we had earnings of Rs 30,000 every day during Navratri. This year, our earnings are less than Rs 20,000 per day. In August and September, our earnings had dropped to Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 per day. Hopefully things will get better," he said. The railway official said there were 51 trains to Jammu and 18 to Katra, of which eight ran on a daily basis, adding that every year ahead of Navratri, they held meetings with the state administration, within the department as well as with the Railway Protection Force (RPF) to finalise the arrangements. The first commercial run of the Vande Bharat Express will be on Saturday. Flagging off the train, Shah had said Article 370 was a roadblock for the development of Jammu and Kashmir and the journey of progress in the region would begin with the launch of Train 18. PTI SLB ASG RC

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