Friday, November 12, 2010

Official apathy mars world’s highest Golf Course

It has been over five years since the Jammu and Kashmir government conceived a plan to ‘modernize’ the world’s highest Golf Course here in a bid to give fillip to the tourism sector by promoting Gulmarg as a ‘favourite’ Golfing destination. But as on date, the work on the prized turf is still incomplete.

According to observers, ‘official indifference’ coupled with ‘system failure’ has caused inordinate delay in completing work on the Golf Course, where the first Indian Golfer is understood to have beaten a British competitor in early 1950.

The delay is not only affecting the Golfing prospects in Kashmir, but also leading to huge cost escalation on the project. It is also spoiling the turf on which “some new works done this year are carried out afresh every next year.”

“The plan was approved by the Government of India in 2004-05 at the cost of Rs 2 crore. The actual work on it started in 2007, keeping in view the need to modernize it and promote Gulmarg as a favourite Golfing destination,” said an official, who has been closely associated with the plan. “Keeping in view the historicity of the Golf Course, it was deemed appropriate to modernize it to best possible extent so that it attracts Golfers from across the world. It was part of a vision commonly referred to as Davosification of Gulmarg.”

According to sources, a number of civil works were completed by the end of 2008 itself. This included the earthwork, tees (a short peg put into the ground to hold a golf ball off the ground) and greens work (an area of closely cropped grass surrounding the hole on a golf course). “Apart from other works, seeding had also to be done,” they said. “The seed was imported from the United States. But God knows why the state government has failed to make the Golf Course operational so far.”

A cursory look at the Golf Course—spread over 150 acres of land—reflects its sorry state of affairs. The place is in a shambles. Cattle are seen roaming around while a few ponnywalas are also having a field day.
Initially, the sources said, it was decided that the project shall be completed in two years. September 2010 was put as another deadline, which the state has failed to meet.

The executing agency of the project is the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) under the aegis of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department.


There is a peculiar problem that has marred the Golf Course functioning. “Three Chief Ministers have been monitoring the project. Three Chief Executive Officers of the GDA and administrative officers changed since it was started. This frequent transfer marred the project because the priorities of the officers were different at different times. When someone comes in the middle of the season, he tries to understand the project in their way. It takes them time to go through the projects again which affects the overall efficiency. There is that continuity break which consumes more time,” said the official, who has been working on the project. “Also, the system failure caused the delay. It took the state government a lot of time to purchase the equipments for the Golf Course, though requisition for the same was made in time. The procurement process takes time. Some of the equipment is yet to be procured because there are too many agencies and procedural hitches involved. There has to be a backing and support from the government for such projects, which is missing for the past two years.”

Sources said there was also the “lack of accountability factor” to the issue. “There was a problem of lack of expertise and timely release of funds for the people associated with the project. With so many works, it was like carpenter’s hands for mason’s work. And then people on ground were to be made accountable and asked to meet the deadline. But nothing like that happened,” they said.


According to Ranjit Nanda, the consultant for the Gulmarg Golf Course, all the major work has been done. “There is some fine tuning that needs be done. There is also some fertilizing and maintenance work that has to be carried out,” he told Greater Kashmir. “All that is the next phase, which can’t be done in winter. The grass has already gone into dormancy. If we start early next season, we may be able to put the Golf Course into operation by July 2011.”

He said as a golfing destination, Gulmarg turf was a wonderful place. “Gulmarg Golf Course is the world’s highest Golf Course. It has lot of history. The first time an Indian player beat a British golfer was in Gulmarg in early 50s. Every year Golf tournaments would be held on the turf and Golfers from across the world would participate,” Ranjit, who has played Golf on the turf, said, asserting that the completion of the Golf Course “would certainly give fillip to tourism sector in Kashmir.”

“There is a limited working season in Gulmarg which affects the work. Then we had the turmoil this year again, which also created problem. By we are at the job. We are trying to throw it open for the sport as soon as possible,” Nanda said.

Sources however said that outside the state such projects are completed in 15 to 20 months. “The unrest in the Valley, cited by officials, is a handy excuse now. The question is why a project, which should have been completed in time, is still incomplete. That needs to be looked into,” they said.

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