Dehradun, January 18
The successive state governments in Uttarakhand have not been able to devise a single clear-cut policy on tourism in the last 11 years. Being a small state of which 67 per cent part is covered with forests, tourism emerges the as the most viable option to generate revenue and employment. Sadly, all the state governments have floundered in harnessing this potential.
Unlike other states, the Tourism Department in the state stands divided among various entities, which has only resulted into utter chaos and blame game. The proposal of their unification fizzled out whenever floated.
The corporations, the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) in the Garhwal circle, and the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) in Kumaon circle were handed over the charge of manning the tourist rest houses built by another wing, the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), and various small industries and gas agencies. Given to the ban on quarrying in the state in year, the GMVN lost a major source of revenue and its other industries, too, closed down one after another. Of the total 91 rest houses, most opened at the behest of politicians related to the state government to placate voters of their segment. Only 26 are running into profit; the rest are lying dilapidated and incurring major losses. People at the helm, president and vice-president, both political posts in GMVN and KMVN, employed their near and dear ones in these revenue- strapped corporations. The top bureaucrats, managing directors and general managers are usually given several other additional senior posts and are hardly seen in the corporation offices. The employees remained on roads most of the time, demanding salaries and regularisation of jobs.
The corporations have sought improvement in the condition of worn out rest houses. AK Dwivedi, Joint Director, UTDB, refused admitting that GMVN and KMVN had failed to pay the lease instalments frequently.The department would rather prefer private companies to take control of the rest houses.
The infrastructure on Chardham route is equally disappointing. The state government has been cashing on religious tourism where people in several lakhs visit Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath from May to November each year. Since the devotees are driven by religious sentiments regardless of facilities, the number of tourists has not risen significantly on the route in all these years.
Prakash Suman Dhyani, adviser to UTDB, accepted the serious lapses, saying: “In the last 11 years, we have not been able to provide good connectivity, including roads, bridges etc all around the char dham route. The tourists do not get decent eateries, lodging or toilet facilities for long stretches. Each year, the tourists or pilgrims get stranded because of landslides for several days together during rainy season. It is because we do not have alternate routes. We may churn out a horde of policies regarding destinations and circuits but the ground picture is quite dismal.”
Char Dham Vikas Parishad, another wing, headed by a politician of the state government, also turned to be an exercise to please those who could not be accommodated in the state government directly. All the pronouncements regarding boosting tourism during winter season by giving incentives and lucrative packages to visit winter abodes of the deities of Char Dham proved a damp squib. The state, which is replete with untapped and unexploited potential of natural sightseeing sites and with unlimited scope of adventure tourism, could not raise the tourism business during winter. UTDB’s idea of corroborating with the Department of Eco Tourism to offer beat destinations in parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the state during winter, too, remained confined to the files.
Since any travel activities inside the forest area comes under the Forest Department and is termed as eco tourism, the department has made many forest officers in-charge of eco tourism. They seemed least interested in tourism and have not done much beyond releasing new maps of Haldwani and Binsar, besides organising some sightseeing tours for groups of students and volunteers. Their apathy has led to the mushrooming of commercial hotels/resorts within the prohibited area of Corbett National Park.
Despite myriad possibilities available for evolving several tourist destinations as big as those developed by Britishers, such as Nainital and Mussoorie and popularising traditional fairs and festivals in the interior region through slick marketing, the state government has faltered on all these fronts badly. Barring Auli, no other destination, which was developed later, comes into sight.
The emblem of adventure activity in the state, rafting, remains embroiled in a controversy whenever it is the time to issue permits to rafters in September. The rafters blame the government for never backing them up with infrastructure or funds when they were struggling to establish the activity along the stretches of the Ganges from Shivpuri to Kaudiyala in Rishikesh. They remained on the boil this year on being demanded 20 per cent entertainment taxes, though they had no hesitation in continuing to pay permit high permit fee to both UTDB and Forest Department. The government has not been able to break the deadlock with rafters till date.
The brouhaha over ushering in village tourism with the collaboration of commercial giant Mahindra Tour & Travels, too, ended in mere din three years ago. Even now the government brags about starting this project on its own in a couple of villages such as Trivugi Narayan in Rudraprayag and Aadi Kailash in Nainital but on ground it is too little. The villagers complain about lack of proper training, infrastructure and tourist arrivals. It is also a pity that the government has not been able to provide even a single five star hotel to cater to its high-end tourists in the state.