|Logtak lake of NE India's Manipur state, home to the critically endangered Dancing Deer. Instead of building theme parks, the focus of the govt should be on saving the natural ones and boost eco-tourism in the fragile region|
This might sound big and wonderful: the union government has sanctioned, for the eleventh 5 Year Plan, Rs.566.40($56 million) crore to boost tourism in the North east India. According to union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai, tourism has huge potential in developing the region.
“All the Northeastern States are being asked to develop the sector so that tourist flow into the region is doubled from the current figure”, Sahay said in the recently concluded 2nd Inter-State Regional Conference of Tourism Ministers of the East and Northeastern States in Shillong. The money sanctioned, he said, would be invested in building the infrastructure.
Now, when I think of infrastructure, especially in the context of tourism, my thoughts go beyond railheads, bus services and helicopter services (which, of late, have caught the fancy of our state governments). In fact I can't think of tourism in North east without thinking of the safety, security measures.
I know I am venturing into 'home affairs' now, but where on earth tourists go visiting places where lurking in every corner is the fear of a general strike or a shoot out? Why have people stopped going to Kashmir? Not because they have suddenly developed a disliking for the paradise on earth. But because they paradise just doesn't feel safe. It's simple.
True, a few places in the region have received a few hundreds of tourists in past few years. In Meghalaya especially, there has been a visible incnrease in the tourist inflow and it has got a pat in the back from the minister as well.
But if the minister thinks every state can repeat the performance of Meghalaya, he is wrong. Look at Manipur - a state that has amazing wildlife and natural wealth to be a big eco-tourism hub, but has been driven to the edge, thanks to continuous economic blockade, Bandh, ethnic conflict and unrest over AFSPA. Building of infrastructure, in particular modern facilities like theme parks is just going to cut the ice there.
(On a curious note, if the government really is serious about bringing development through tourism, why can’t it think of a more sustainable way such as proposing eco-tourism as the best model for the entire region which is known as ecologically fragile?)
Then there is the question of skills and capacity to spend the money. Year after year, the governments in the region are failing to spend the money earmarked for development projects. Just to cite a couple of example, Assam has not been able to utilize the Rs 422.90 crore (#42million) it got from North Eastern Council (NEC) in last 5 year planning period. Meghalaya has not been able to utilize its fund for development of disabled people (a shame).Tripura has miserably failed to utilize the money meant for rural employment through MNREGA scheme. The list is long, but you get the picture.
In the backdrop of this, mere release of fund is not the way to make the region a tourist hub, since it lacks in every area - facilities, law and order and governance. Separate one and make a plan and it is a formula for failure. Instead, focus need to be on making the plan that brings improvement in all the three areas.