Minister for Culture and Tourism and Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma on Wednesday said that the government was giving a big push to tourism in the country with a special focus on tapping the huge potential of the Northeast.
Addressing the Mail Today Northeast Rising Conclave, the minister said, “It is high time to use the tourism potential to drive the economy.” The minister lamented that currently India has a mere 0.68 per cent share in world tourism. “Our aim is to raise this share to 1 per cent by 2020,” he added.
He pointed out that countries like Maldives, Singapore and Malaysia were thriving on tourism while India was still lagging behind. Sharma said India has the potential for round-the-year tourism given the scenic beauty of the Northeast, the grandeur of the Himalayan range, the country’s long coastline and the splendid desert of Rajasthan. India and especially the Northeast were known for their hospitality and this has crucial role to play in promoting tourism.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a clean India would also give a fillip to tourism.” “Safety and security were other key elements required to attract tourists and any slip up on this front could lead to a setback of several years”, he added. Sharma said the government was giving a lot of attention to the security issue and was in touch with state governments as well on the issue of ensuring safety for tourists. The minister said the Centre had allocated Rs 1,200 crore to promote tourism in the Northeast and apart from this the allocations for infrastructure and culture would also help in providing a better environment for tourists.
Sharma said the investments being made in improving air and road connectivity in the Northeast would also help to improve tourism. The minister said that the government was investing Rs 1100 crore to develop the Guwahati as air hub for the Northeastern states. Public sector Pawan Hans was stationing a fleet 20 helicopters in Guwahati to cater to the region and five fixed winged aircraft would also be used to fly passengers. Another Rs 100 crore is being invested to upgrade the Bagdogra airport.
The minister said that the Centre has also allocated Rs 123 crore for promoting the Northeast as a circuit for tourism. Various roadshows and cultural events for showcasing the region as a tourist destination are being carried out under this initiative. Sharma admitted that developing the Northeast is a challenge but added that this task must be taken up with a sense of pride. He pointed out that the Narendra Modi government had started releasing funds more liberally for the development projects in the Northeast.
The number of 100 per cent centrally-sponsored projects had gone up and all the Union ministries had been directed to allocate at least 10 per cent of their total budgetary allocation to the Northeastern states which have around 2 per cent of India’s total population.