‘People asked me, why is your country so dirty?’

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Subodh Kant Sahay ,Former Union Tourism Minister
Subodh Kant Sahay ,Former Union Tourism Minister

What was your vision when you were minister?
I changed the basic outlook of the tourism ministry. In India, this ministry is treated as a tafri (time pass) ministry. We have converted it to a pro-people and job-oriented one. From the pushcart vendors to the skilled workers, everyone derives the benefits of developing tourism. In the hospitality industry, there are scores of managers, but there are thousands of people who work as housekeeping staff, including people working in the laundries and other allied departments. In rural areas, tourism directly benefits the villagers. The local economy of the area is developed and so is the culture. There is a branding of the place.

I wanted tourism to grow as an employment-oriented sector that would provide more entrepreneurial opportunities than any other sector.

What changes did you bring?
We proposed a completely changed concept to the planning commission for the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (FYP). Earlier, the entire FYP budget for tourism was Rs 3,000-4,000 crore. During the subsequent five years, it was increased by four times to Rs 16,000 crore. Also, during my time, there was 100 percent utilization of funds.

What is the focal point of tourism in the Twelfth FYP?
Job creation and a boost to the service sector. The person who comes as a tourist today could come back as an investor tomorrow. So, tourism also helps in the branding of the country. It creates jobs for women and skilled workers. People come to all sorts of eateries: from dhabas to five-star restaurants.

Many tourist spots are very unhygienic and the maintenance of these places is very difficult. In various events when I spoke about India and its tourism, people said, “Mr Sahay you may speak of the 5,000-year-old history of India, but why is your country so dirty?”

So we created a scheme for public and private corporations to adopt these places, for example, adopt the Red Fort. These tourist spots would be adopted on a “station to destination” basis.

What are the major hurdles?
The ministry has to coordinate with other ministries. There was a coordination committee of 19 ministries set up under the Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office. We set up the tourist visa-on-arrival for inbound foreign travellers. From around 4.5 million we increased it to 6 million and had a target of 10 million.

In India, the number of inbound foreign tourists has stagnated and we rely largely on domestic tourists. A major hurdle is that the state governments allocate very little funds for tourism development. They have to participate in the tourism development process and build roads for connectivity to tourist spots.

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