As airfares to Srinagar continue to rise, J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has listed a petition on the matter for hearing on Wednesday.
Airfare on Delhi-Srinagar route for March 1 is hovering between Rs 10,000- Rs 13,000 while per head airfare for Delhi-Jammu is just Rs 4700. Delhi-Srinagar airfare before the season's first snowfall on January 6 was between Rs 4000 – Rs 5000 but inclement weather and closure of Jammu-Srinagar highway resulted in sky-high increase in the fares. Per-head airfare from Delhi to Srinagar during recent inclement weather had been reflecting in excess of Rs 1 lakh on various travel portals, sending fliers into a tizzy.
The petition against high airfares has been filed by JK Peoples Forum through its Chairman MM Shuja. It was earlier heard by the SHRC in 2014 but soon put on the back burner after the Commission turned defunct for almost two years. Airfares to Srinagar have recently caused a huge public outcry, forcing SHRC to re-visit the petition.
In 2014, SHRC had asked Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to explain why it had failed to control the arbitrary hike in airfares by the airline companies. While DGCA had submitted its reply to SHRC, there was no follow-up to the petition.
The petition filed with SHRC has observed that hike in airfares is a burden on patients, student community and lower business class as high airfares makes it "impossible for them to avail travel facility."
The petition has also observed that tourism in Kashmir had been adversely hit by the rise in airfares. It had also highlighted that during inclement weather, when road connectivity to Kashmir is cut-off, air travel becomes the only option for people from the Valley to be connected to the rest of the world.
Minister for Consumer Affairs Chowdhary Zulkfar Ali had recently written a letter to Union Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju. The letter had highlighted "monopolistic" practices being carried out by the airline companies while fixing fares for Srinagar. There was soon a setback for the JK government as Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha in Rajya Sabha said air prices are competitive and based on market economy. "Airline market is based on market economy and there is lots of competition," he said while defending the airfares.
Kashmir-based tour and travel operators have welcomed the intervention of SHRC in addressing the issue. "SHRC can play a vital role in pulling up the concerned civil aviation bodies and airlines as well. We should also make efforts to approach the Competition Commission of India," said General Secretary, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, Farooq Kuthu.