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Cover Story    Vol. 3 Issue No. 50     June 1-15, 2008

LTC norms relaxed for Govt employees to visit NE

In a major decision to boost tourism in the scenic north eastern region, the Centre has relaxed Leave Travel Concession (LTC) Rules for its employees permitting them to travel by air.

The new rules will apply to employees irrespective of their grade or post and the order will be in operation for two years, sources in the Ministry of Personnel today said.

Under the revised rules, Group A and B Central Government employees will be entitled to travel by air from their place of posting or nearest airport to a city in the north eastern region.

Employees belonging to other categories will be entitled to travel by air to a city in the north eastern region from Guwahati or Kolkata.

All Central Government servants would be allowed conversion of one block of Home Town LTC into LTC for destinations in the north eastern region, the order said.

The Ministry said that data regarding the number of employees availing LTC to the north eastern region would be maintained.

The decision will enable government servants in the junior grades to visit the northeastern region, which used to remain a distant dream for them because of high air travel costs and absence of official entitlement.

The north eastern region comprises Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, and also Sikkim -- all having rich tourism potential.

Infrastructure hits Tawang’s tourism

At first sight the snow-covered place could be mistaken to somewhere in the Kashmir Valley.
The Sella Pass, perched at 18,000 ft above sea level, in the Himalayan ranges is as majestic as any tourist destination. The pass, however, has not been able to attract tourists thanks to lack of infrastructure.
The pass is about eight hours drive from Asom’s town of Tezpur and falls on way to Tawang, where the second oldest Buddhist monastery after Lhasa, is situated.
Politically Tawang has become sensitive of late with the Chinese claim on territory, which has been vehemently contested by the Arunachal Pradesh people.
Admitting that lack of infrastructure had robbed the government of valuable revenue, Arunachal Tourism Secretary Bandana Deuri says roadside amenities have to be improved to attract tourists to even the lesser known areas of the State.
The road to Tawang and Sella is maintained by the Border Roads Task Force and a tourist has to depend on amenities provided basically by the army which is guarding the sector.
“This year there was seven feet snow in the Sella pass and our family and friends had fun,” says the wife of a army colonel who is posted in the area.
“Thrilling” has been the overwhelming word of praise for the few tourists who came this year as a part of a conducted tour to Tawang and Sella. “It is absolutely majestic with thick snow cover and the Sella lake frozen...It is sad there is no infrastructure for the tourists to stay and have the most out it”, said Sweta Mehta who was a part of the tourist team. Deuri said the Government was seized of the matter and has moved the centre to extend the tourist sector to the entire state to fully explore its potential.
Admitting that Protected Area Permit (PAP) and the Inner Line Permit (ILP) was proving a major hindrance to tourist inflow, the official said a plea has been made to the union home ministry to relax it.
The request is to allow even single entry instead of the current four tourists in case of foreigners and increase their minimum days to stay from the present ten to one month, she said. The Government has a plan to attract high ended tourists and will build near Tawang a convention centre of international standards having a 16-hall golf course.
Apart from that a ‘Wellness Park’ in West Kameng district with public-private participation is on the anvil and the proposals have been sent to the Union Home Ministry for necessary clearance.
Tawang attracted international attention after a 16-member Thai business delegation visited the place in January who have assured to send an expert delegation very soon to collect tourist information about the State. Deuri said the government was infact contemplating to promote the Bhalukpung (Assam)-Bomdilla-Sella-Tawang sector as a tourist route in the near future.
At present only a handful of tourists come with their own means of transport and depending on local villagers and army managed road side amenities, but with the route well established, the inflow (of tourists) will increase, she said. Tourists can also take heart of the fact that a daily chopper service is planned from Guwahati to Tawang which presently runs twice weekly.
It will take only one hour from Guwahati to Tawang and tourists can avail a three-hour drive down to Sella pass and come back to Tawang the same day, she said.
Locals rue over the fact that even Rajesh Roshan’s block buster Koyla which was shot entirely in the Tawang valley had failed to attract tourists.
“How many people know Madhuri Dixit and Sharukh Khan shot at various water falls and lakes which has then be renamed as Madhuri lake and Madhuri falls”, says Tamshing Lama of Tawang.
Former AP tourist minister and local Lumla constituency MLA T G Rimpoche feels that a lot has to be done to improve infrastructure and attract tourists which was the only to ushe in development in the area.

Manas in UNESCO’s ‘Site in Danger’ list

Confirming that UNESCO has put Manas and Keoladeo National Parks in ‘Heritage Site in Danger’, the Centre has said it has been providing financial and technical assistance to the two State Governments for better management. The Union Government has been continuously in touch with the State Governments of Assam and Rajasthan. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has been providing financial and technical assistance to the State Governments for the better management of these sites, said Minister of State for Environment and Forests, S. Regupathy, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha today.

Further, a UNESCO funded project was launched in 2007, for better management at the four natural world heritage sites in India including Manas and Keoladeo, said Reghupathy.

Out of the five natural heritage sites in India, Manas National Park is already in the category of ‘Heritage Site in Danger’ since 1992. It was placed in this category due to large-scale disturbances and agitation during that period causing serious damage to the Park.

The World Heritage Committee had also expressed serious concern over the situation resulting from inadequate availability of water to maintain the wetland ecosystem in Keoladeo National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site.

The Union Tourism Ministry has been according top priority to development of tourism in the area, since tourism has great potential for employment generation and economic growth.   This was stated by the Union Tourism Secretary Sh. S. Banerjee recently while reviewing the progress of projects sanctioned to the State Governments for development and promotion of tourism in the North-Eastern Region.  He said during the 10th plan period a total amount of Rs.319 crore was released to the North Eastern states including Sikkim, as against the mandatory provision of 10% amounting to Rs.269 crore.  Similarly in the first year of the 11th plan i.e. 2007-08, against the target of Rs.95.3 crore  (10% allocation of the budget) the actual expenditure on the North East including HRD & publicity amounted to Rs.170 crore.

S. Banerjee said, the Ministry has continuously  been promoting the North Eastern Region through its publicity campaigns in the print, online and electronic media.  In 2006,  4.45 million foreign tourists arrived in the country, 0.038 million foreign tourists visited the North East region and the number of domestic tourists who visited the North East was 3.9 million.  The Union Tourism Secretary said however in order to  tap the immense tourism potential of the region it is required that a concerted effort  be made  for upgrading infrastructure and ensuring better connectivity  of  important tourist destinations and circuits.

The Union Ministry highlighted the status of implementation of projects sanctioned in the first three years of the 10th Plan during the meeting.  It was emphasized by the Senior Union Tourism Ministry officials that all projects must be completed and commissioned by December this year.  It was also impressed upon the states that actual implementation of the sanctioned projects will be closely monitored  by the Union Government.  Secretary Tourism Sh. S. Banerjee directed that maintenance of assets is a must and in the absence of a proper institutional mechanism for solid waste management and civic amenities at sites, projects would not be considered for sanction. 

Sh. Banerjee stated that as sustainable tourism is the way forward, due emphasis to eco tourism and rural tourism must be given.  In particular, rural tourism has the potential of showcasing the craft, cuisine and culture of a village in a very attractive manner, so while the Central Govt. with the cooperation of the State and District authorities is developing rural tourism sites, it is up the travel trade to effectively market them and bring tourists to these villages, for truly enjoying their authentic flavour and ambience.

The representatives of State Governments from the North East briefed the meeting about their tourism strategy and the status of implementation of projects.  They welcomed the recent decision regarding LTC for Govt. officials which will boost tourism to the region. They emphasized that guidance from Ministry of Tourism on creatives & publicity is greatly required for better marketing of their tourism products..  The States also stressed that relaxation of permits is essential for facilitating travel.  Secretary, Arunachal Pradesh mentioned that the Ministry of Home Affairs has just relaxed the RAP regulations by opening up 4 more circuits, increasing the length of stay and allowing a minimum of two persons to travel rather than the earlier minimum number of four persons.

Apart from the tourism Review Meeting at Guwahati,  there was a meeting with the Travel Trade in the North-East on 12th May, 08. The Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum made a presentation about its activities and strategy for future development.  The leading members of the travel trade such as tour operators and hoteliers spoke about the boost that tourism has received in recent years because of the domestic media campaign and reiterated that continuous promotion and marketing efforts, together with relaxation of permits would ensure greater inflow of tourists to the region. They emphasized the need for better connectivity of all States  It was decided that the calendar of events of all the States would be finalized and communicated to the Ministry of Tourism for publicity through the website and collaterals.  The tour operators were also informed that the Marketing Development Assistance guidelines have been amended to enable tour operators from the North Eastern region to participate in the International Marts.  At all these Marts, space is provided free of cost for the participants of the North East States hence they were urged to avail of this opportunity.

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