The decision of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) to allocate some tickets for helicopter service for the annual yatra to travel and tourism associations has resulted in the pilgrims being overcharged for the service.
The SASB has notified the rates for the helicopter service for both Baltal and Pahalgam routes leading to the 3880-metre high cave shrine but many pilgrims have complained that they were being charged 30 to 45% higher by travel agents.
"I was shocked when a travel agent asked me to pay Rs 9,000 for a return ticket on Pahalgam route and Rs 7,000 for Baltal route," AK Tiwari, a pilgrim from Uttar Pradesh, told PTI.
The normal return fare for the traditional Pahalgam route set by the SASB is Rs 6,900 person while for the shorter Baltal route is Rs Rs 4850 per person.
Another pilgrim, Arvind Bhatt, from Gujarat said they confronted the tour operator with the actual rates but were told that they were charging the extra money for their services and also had to pay a certain fees to their association.
"Normally, the fare structure is set up in a way that all the commissioning is taken care of within the authorized rates. Here the commissions vary so drastically that it is impossible to know what is the right price," Bhatt said.
With a view to benefit the local tourism players, the SASB allotted 180 helicopters tickets per day to various hotel, houseboat, travel and tour associations in the state.
President of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) Rouf Ahmad Punjabi admitted that they were charging more than the rates announced by the SASB.
"We are providing a service for which we add nominal charges ranging from 5 to 10%, depending on the kind of services sought by the clients," Punjabi said.
He, however, said he will take action against any member of his association if any yatri can prove that he has been charged more than 25% on the actual rates.
"We will not tolerate fleecing of the tourists or the yatris. We earn a livelihood from their visits and we would like to them visit again and again," he added.
A tour operator, requesting anonymity, said overcharging was nothing new in any tourist place of the country.
"These kinds of complaints will be there. Normally, the ticketing should be outsourced by the SASB to tour operators and travel agents of the state with an inbuilt mechanism of commission for them. This will address the problem once for all," he said.
SASB chief executive officer RK Goel did not respond to calls and SMS sent to him for his comments.