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122 delegates, including 60 foreigners, arrive to grand welcome in Srinagar for G20 meet

Youngsters perfom during a special sports event at Dal Lake, ahead of G20 Tourism Working Group meeting, in Srinagar.

Srinagar: With all businesses going on as usual and no restrictions on movement or internet, a delegation of 122 participants reached Srinagar on Monday to attend the G20 meeting of the Working Group on Tourism.

Officials said that a total of 132 passengers were booked on an Air Asia chartered flight from New Delhi to Srinagar. Of them, 122 boarded and arrived in Srinagar. They included 60 foreigners. Officials said that the delegates of “at least 17 G20 nations” are participating in the conference at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre, on the banks of the world-famous Dal Lake.

The delegates were accompanied by India’s Minister of Tourism and Culture, G Kishan Reddy and a number of officers from different Ministries and departments.

They arrived in Srinagar to the melodies of Kashmiri music playing in the background, and were received at the airport by Bhavna Saxena, Joint Secretary G20 Secretariat, S.D. Singh Jamwal, Jammu and Kashmir Government’s Additional Director General of Security, Vijay Kumar Bidhuri, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Dr Syed Abid Rashid Shah, Secretary Tourism (J&K), Raja Yaqoob Farooq, Director Tourism Kashmir, Akshay Labroo, Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, and other officers.

With tight security arrangements being in place, the delegates later reached Srinagar’s super luxury hotels, Grand Lalit and Vivanta By Taj, where they will be staying for three days. The day-long conference on tourism is scheduled at SKICC on Tuesday. Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha are scheduled to attend the inaugural.

Union Tourism Secretary , Arvind Singh, with G20 Chief Coordinator and former Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who are already camping in Srinagar, received the G20 delegates at Grand Lalit. They were greeted with a welcome ‘Rouf’ performance by a group of Kashmiri female dancers and the mesmerising tune of the most popular “Kraal koori maala karai kousman” by a group of the local folk musicians.

On the sidelines of the conference, the delegates will be taken on a cruise on Dal Lake. They are also scheduled to visit the famous tourist resort of Gulmarg. Officials at Gulmarg and Baramulla maintained that reports of the cancellation of the G20 delegates’ visit were “incorrect”. “We have put in place all necessary arrangements. We have no information about the cancellation of their visit to Gulmarg. We are prepared and going ahead to host their visit”, Dr Syed Sehrish Asgar, Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla asserted.

This is the first major international event being held in Kashmir in the last 37 years—the last being an international cricket match between India and Australia on 9 September 1986. This is also the first international conference in Kashmir after withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the formation of  two separate Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, in August 2019.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police with paramilitary CRPF and SSB, besides contingents from the National Security Guard (NSG) and Marine Commandos (MARCOS), are providing security to the venue, the hotels where the delegates are staying and the routes of their scheduled journey. No restrictions have been imposed on the movement of traffic and internet. However, Srinagar’s Boulevard, from Dalgate to Nishat, via SKICC, has been closed for general traffic from 10:30 a.m to 10 p.m on Monday and 8:00 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

Traffic was also stopped for over one hour on Srinagar-Airport Road for smooth passage of the delegates on Monday. In view of a threat perception, some educational institutions have been closed in Srinagar for three days.

The NSG’s counter-drone unit has been pressed into service to ensure that no unwanted aerial intrusion takes place. For the first time, a grey colour uniform has been provided to select groups of the Jammu and Kashmir Police who are in the first ring of the delegates’ security with no visibility of firearms. Officials said that all venues and G20 routes had been sanitised and there was no possibility of any terror strike, IED blast or grenade attack.

Srinagar has been spruced up with fresh macadam on many roads and tiling on walkways. Last week, LG Manoj Sinha inaugurated a modernisation project at Polo View as also the Jhelum Riverfront at Rajbagh. On Sunday and Monday, hundreds of local youths and tourists from different states were seen enjoying picnics and visiting these spots and taking pictures with cell phones.

Government offices, business establishments, civilian traffic, banks and educational institutions, barring a few in Srinagar, are functioning as usual all across the Kashmir valley.