With the airfares from Srinagar to various destinations going sky-high, fliers including students and patients intending to travel outside the Valley feel themselves at the receiving end.
Ovais Henroo, an aggrieved passenger in an email to Greater Kashmir expressed shock over the steep hike in the airfare. "There has been a scare of sorts among the fliers as a particular airline has priced Srinagar- Delhi fare at Rs 90,000 which is sending fliers into a tizzy. The airfares are skyrocketing and something needs to be done," Henroo wrote.
The Srinagar-Jammu airfare, as was reflected by various travel portals, touched as high as Rs 35,000 per passenger on Thursday. Ironically, the Delhi-Dubai airfare for the same day was just Rs 12,000.
Airfares from Srinagar have been witnessing a sharp increase ever since Kashmir received season's first snowfall on January 6.
Pertinently, prior to January 6, Srinagar-Delhi airfare was between Rs 4000-Rs 5000 per passenger. "But the same fair has abruptly gone up by at least 200 to 300 per cent as soon road traffic movement on Srinagar-Jammu highway was hit by the inclement weather. It is open loot," said a passenger.
"The airfare for Srinagar-Delhi route for the coming weekend is between Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000, which is much higher than airfares which prevailed prior to January 6," he said.
However, an airline executive said the airfares are based on demand-supply factor. "Besides, the landing charges levied on airlines by the Indian Air Force and other taxes charged by the state government add to the increase in the airfares, he said.
"Almost Rs 11,000 is charged per landing by the Air Force for every Boeing flight while there are also state taxes charged to the airlines," he said.
However, drawing a comparison between Srinagar-Delhi and Delhi-Mumbai sectors, the passengers said the latter though a longer duration flight remains priced in the bracket of Rs 4000-Rs 5000 for most of the year, while the former, just a 1.10 hour journey, remains volatile.
President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Mushtaq Wani said he has recently written to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti regarding the exorbitant hike. "We informed the CM that locals are facing the brunt of high airfares and we had also raised the issue before State Consumer Protection Council prior to the unrest and even contacted DGCA but to no avail," Wani said.
"Despite writing to CEOs of various private airlines suggesting there should be a ceiling on the airfares, KCCI is yet to receive a response from them," Wani added.
"The high airfares are a major setback to winter tourism in Kashmir," Wani said.
He said the state government in the last budget had promised to launch chartered flights during winter months and peak summer season in order to cater to the rush of the tourists, "but not much has moved forward".
"Such is the audacity of these airlines, that none of them has responded to our letters as they are least bothered. If they claim an increase in rush, they should increase number of flights," Wani added.
Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Chowdhary Zulfkar Ali told Greater Kashmir that a meeting with union aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju will be held soon after the ongoing state assembly session to take up the issue of exorbitant airfares.
"We have already taken up matter with union civil aviation minister and written them a letter. The problem of volatility in the airfares in this sector is a long pending problem. It even occurs during the peak tourist season and influences negatively the tourist inflow.
"The airlines are exploiting people by inflating airfares in this inclement weather which especially affects patients and the student community wishing to travel outside," Zulfkar said.
To mention, Jammu and Kashmir government had last week apprised the union Aviation Ministry of the "monopolistic" practices carried out by the airlines on airfares in Srinagar.
National Conference had recently cornered government in the Legislative Assembly over its failure to curb skyrocketing airfares to Kashmir which are causing inconvenience to fliers.
Former speaker and Senior NC legislator Mubarak Gul had raised the issue of skyrocketing airfares while disrupting the Question Hour proceedings in the Lower House.