Uttarakhand — a tourist state sans tourism policy

Dehradun: It is a tragic irony that no Uttarakhand government to-date, thought it fit to formulate a tourism policy for this small hill state, even after 14 years of its coming into existence, despite the fact that tourism was stated to be one of the major provider of revenue to make the state economically viable, by those who formulated the plans and struggle for statehood.Uttarakhand — a tourist state sans tourism policy

And though there has been a lot of talk on exploiting the huge tourism potential of this small hill state, nothing was done either by the political leadership or the bureaucracy at the grass root level. In the past two days there has been a lot of talk again on exploiting the tourism potential of Uttarakhand and making the Tehri dam lake a hub of adventure tourism, but one wonders what will come out of it.

The reason for the pessimism is the fact that there has been a lot of talk on developing the Tehri lake for adventure tourism and having floating cottages on it to attract tourists for almost a decade now, but they have just turned out to be pipe dreams. In fact, in 2010 a similar two-day conclave was held on the banks of the Tehri lake, but the suggestions and ideas that came forth never saw the ought of day.

So heavily dependent was the state government and its tourism department on the pilgrimage to char dhaam and other religious places of worship in the state that they did not think it necessary to exploit the tourism potential and create the required infrastructure to divert and attract the tourists to the number of places with tourism potential.

Following the failure of the char dhaam yatra this season after the tragedy that hit the Kedarnath valley last year in which thousands went missing, the footfall to Kedatnath has been at an all time low this year. The huge fall in the number of pilgrims to the char dhaams – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri – have refleted in the gross domestic product (GDP) of the state.

Information under RTI has revealed that the tourism state in the state’s GDP decreased by five per cent, which amounts to about Rs 10,000 crores. The state tourism department agreed that it had failed to announce any tourism policy for the state, and njor had the government passed any order to improve the condition of Tourism in Uttarakhand or create new tourism destination.

What is all the more antagonizing is that adventure tourism is being promoted without any proper policy for the safety of the tourists who will be coming for the adventure sports. There are no guidelines for the standard of equipment that will be used, the presence and participation of experts in the particular sport and no survey has been held on the feasibility and appropriateness of sports like bungee jumping,  river rafting and para gliding at places where they are being held.

And there are reasons why the people are skeptical about the adventure sports without any guidelines or policy formulation. At the two-day conclave at the Tehri lake, where the tourism department’s top brass and a number if tour operators and other invitees were present, as was the chief minister himself, a hot-air ballooning balloon caught fire, but luckily the occupant jumper out and a tragedy was averted.

Tourism secretary Umakant Panwar admitted that the state’s tourism department will have to create a body to regulate, control and promote adventure sports, but he did not spell out why in the last 14 years that the state has been in existence no such body was created and how were adventure sports allowed by private parties without any control or regulations. Were not the participants at risk of injury and there have been instances when accidents have occurred, specially in rafting and the tourists have lost their lives.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt was Editor, Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish had worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, he was a recipient of many awards Jagdish Bhatt, aged 72, breathed his last on 28th August 2021 at his Dehradun residence.

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