With the hydro-potential of the state yet to be tapped expectantly, Chief Minister Pema Khandu termed tourism as the only viable and available sector that could help Arunachal Pradesh develop economically followed by agriculture and allied sectors.
Speaking at the 12th Arunachal Pradesh Tour Operators’ Association (APTOA) Travel Congress here today at the Legislative Assembly auditorium, Khandu observed that despite being touted as the power house of the country, development of hydro-power has many facets that needs to be addressed before its harness. He said awareness on hydro-potential and its long term benefits is yet to percolate down to the people, harnessing this potential to the optimum may take time.
“In the meantime, we need to concentrate on our next viable potential sector, which is undoubtedly tourism,” he pointed.
Lauding APTOA, which is a conglomerate of local tour operators of the state, and its President John Panye, Khandu said due to their sincere efforts tourism sector has grown exponentially in the last couple of years.
As per Bengia Mrinal, APTOA General Secretary, this year the state witnessed the visit of over 26 lakh domestic and 52 thousand foreign tourists, a commendable increase from last year. Members of the APTOA in fact have generated about 17 crores revenue for the state exchequer till date.
Khandu though asserted that despite the increase the state is way far behind the national average and has to work much more in this line.
“Despite the increase in tourist inflow to the state, we are far behind when it comes to what we have to offer in terms of potential. With the immense potential available here we can attract tourists several times more than what we are doing right now,” he said.
The Chief Minister called upon the state Tourism Department authorities to finalize the draft of the State Tourism Policy, which will chalk out a roadmap for the sector to grow. He suggested the department to have rounds of consultations with the APTOA members, hoteliers and resort owners while finalizing the policy, which he said should be practical and state-centric. He also asked the department not to wait for the national tourism policy to be released first but work on the state policy and release it.
He assured the state government’s commitment to support the sector while informing that the current budget has allocated Rs 144 crores to the department to promote tourism in a big way.
Khandu, who held the portfolio of Tourism Minister in the erstwhile government, admitted that the sector hadn’t received the attention of the government as much as it should have. He informed that during his tenure as the Tourism Minister, budget allocation was a mere Rs 18 crore, which also included salary component of the departmental employees. As soon as he became the CM, the allocation was enhanced to Rs 70 crore.
Reiterating his commitment to extend full cooperation for the growth of tourism in the state, Khandu announced a corpus fund of Rs 1crore for APTOA to take up various initiatives for its growth. Incidentally, former Chief Minister Late Dorjee Khandu, father of Pema Khandu, was the first to acknowledge the potential and contributions of APTOA and granted a corpus fund of Rs 10 lakh way back in 2010. In 2016, the present Chief Minister had enhanced it to Rs 50 lakhs.
Citing many potential areas of the state coming under restricted or protected areas, Khandu viewed that relaxation of such restriction for foreigners would be beneficial from tourism perspective. He however gave a staunch ‘no’ to any relaxation in the existing Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in the state.
“Remaining within the existing laws but with few relaxations here and there our tourism sector can grow in leaps and bounds,” he observed.
The Chief Minister was also of the view that depending upon the government alone will not bear the desired fruits. He called upon local businessmen and entrepreneurs to invest in the tourism sector and create infrastructure favored by high-end tourists. To this regard he suggested budding entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Deen Dayal Swawlamban Yojna, which offers 30% subsidy to loans upto Rs 1 crore for projects including the tourism sector.
MoS Home Kiren Rijiju, who in fact suggested holding of the APTOA Congress, speaking as the Guest of Honour emphasized on projecting and promoting Arunachal Pradesh as a cultural tourism hotspot.
“Arunachal Pradesh has got everything to satisfy the taste of every visitor,” he said, while calling for inculcation of the right attitude towards visitors and creation of a clean image of local hospitality.
On the controversy over the Center’s view to relax to some extent the purview of RAP/PAP, he said the demand has been made by successive state governments to increase the inflow of foreign tourists. He pointed that the relaxation if made will not affect the demographic profile or create any security lapses.
The inaugural session of the one-day Congress was also attended by Speaker T N Thongdok, Cabinet Minister Dr Mahesh Chai, Parliamentary Secretary Tourism P D Sona, legislators Laisam Simai, Tesam Pongte, and Gabriel D Wangsu and officials of the tourism department.
Special guests and experts present were Pranab Sarkar, President of Indian Association of Tour Operators, Captain Swadesh Kumar, President of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India, P P Khanna, President of Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India, Ramanna Athreya, Scientist and Wildlife Conservationist, P K Dong, former Regional Director of Tourism for Europe, Raj Basu of Help Tourism, Shoeb Samad, Regional Director, Ministry of Tourism, Anshu Jamsenpa, Mountaineer and others.
Muri Linggi, mother of four, who recently scaled Mt Everest, was felicitated during the occasion.