India’s Tourism Minister, Dr. Mahesh Sharma while speaking to T3FS in an exclusive interview says that the government is keen to develop the northeastern region for travel and tourism sector and ensure safety and security of tourists.
“Our honorable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has got a special vision about the northeast. We feel that there is an immense potential in the region that has to be tapped. A major bottleneck in the growth of northeast is connectivity. We are looking to address this issue,” said Sharma.
The Minister said that the North-east has a large unexploited potential for tourism and the Union Tourism Ministry has designated a special circuit for the region under its new Swadesh Darshan scheme. The Government will help to create the necessary infrastructure and other facilities required for promoting tourism in the region under this scheme.
The Ministry of Tourism has assured that the Centre will take all possible steps to expedite the proposal of World Heritage site status for Majuli island located in the Brahmaputra river in Assam.
Sharma in April this year also laid the foundation stone of Tourist Lodge at Siddhartha Vihar in Itanagar as a part of Development of Itanagar-Doimukh-Sagalee Circuit by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
Expressing his commitment to make visa process convenient for international travellers, the Tourism Minister said electronic Tourist Visa is showing good response.
During January- May 2015, a total of 1,10,657 tourist arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 9,841 during January- May 2014, registering a growth of 1024.4% .
Sharma informed that the government will make e- tourist visa available for 150 countries by March 2016.
The Government of India launched Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) enabled by Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), presently known as e-Tourist Visa scheme, on 27th November 2014 for 43 countries. The Government extended this Scheme to the citizens of Guyana and Sri Lanka in January, 2015 and April, 2015, respectively. The e-Tourist Visa facility is extended to the nationals of 31 countries in May, 2015.
Sharma reiterated the commitment of the government to ensure safety and security of all tourists. The Ministry of Tourism does not compile the data regarding crime against foreign or domestic tourists. However, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs has started collecting data on crime against foreign tourists since 2014.
The Ministry of Tourism, on a pilot basis, has set up the ‘Incredible India Help Line’ to guide the tourists. All the Chief Ministers of the State Governments and Administrators of Union Territory Administrations have been asked to take immediate effective steps for ensuring a conducive and friendly environment for all tourists and also request them to publicize the steps being taken or proposed to be taken to increase the sense of security amongst the present or prospective visitors and also to counter the negative publicity, if any.
Sharma has said that the Incredible India Tourist Helpline will be started in 12 International languages within a period of two months to assist the tourists visiting India. The Helpline is currently operational in two languages, English and Hindi.
Tourism depends to a large extent on the image of the country and the Ministry is making all efforts to facilitate the tourists to create a favourable impact on tourism, the Minister explained. Sharma emphasized that tourism is high on priority of the government and the Prime Minister has become the biggest ambassador to promote India across the globe.
The maintenance of cleanliness at tourist spots is primarily the responsibility of the State Government/UT Administration/concerned agency responsible for maintenance of tourist spots. However, Ministry of Tourism has taken following initiatives under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan:
Swachh Bharat - Swachh Smarak:
Taking a cue from Swachh Bharat, this is an initiative to see a cleaner India for protecting and preserving the sanctity of monuments of national heritage. To aid this, Ministry of Tourism launched a special e-poster with Prime Minister’s message requesting the tourists and the people of the nation to wholeheartedly engage themselves in the cleanliness of their surroundings and help create a Swachh Bharat, Swachh Smarak.
Swachh Bharat - Swachh Pakwan (Hunar Zaika):
The street food vendors constitute a significant percentage of the hospitality service providers and have a pan India presence. This program is aimed at upgrading the skills and hygiene standards of Street Food Vendors, so that they become a distinctive aspect of the Indian tourism. The Ministry of Tourism has partnered with the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) for the specific purpose of orientation, skill testing and certification of the vendors.
‘Swachh Bharat - Swachh Paryatan’:
Ministry of Tourism has requested all States/UTs to assess the requirement of toilet facilities at all popular tourist sites, provide a list of existing non-functional toilets already constructed, frame specific project proposals for toilets to be considered for release of grant under CFA, identify an agency for construction and maintenance and follow the standardized model on the lines of Build and Operate pattern for construction of wayside amenities.
Meetings were held with representatives & founder of Sulabh International to discuss the pattern and modalities for construction of wayside amenities at tourist centres in the country.
Ministry of Tourism has requested all industry associations to motivate their members to install the ‘Organic waste to Compost’ Machines, which convert organic waste in to compost in just 24 hours in their premises.
Further, Ministry of Tourism provides Central Financial Assistance to States/UTs for wayside amenities, garbage bins, storm water treatment facilities sewerage/ effluent disposal, under its plan schemes of Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD.