Sample a line from Arun Jaitley’s maiden Budget. “I propose to create five tourist circuits around specific themes and set aside a sum of Rs 500 crore for this purpose.” The vagueness of the sentence and the lack of clear execution steps is the defining aspect of the Budget 2014-15. The five tourist circuits (down from the 50 BJP proposed in its election campaign) are yet to be identified and so are the “specific” themes. How did the minister arrive at the Rs 500 crore figure without these being fixed is anyone’s guess.
Despite noises being made on India’s rich tourism potential being undersold, the Budget did nothing on addressing longstanding tourism industry demands such as the granting of industry status for the hospitality sector. There was no mention of the need to foster better tourist safety, something that has given Indian a poor world image off late and nothing on a unified national tourism policy that sets clear goals and deadlines going forward when it comes to developing tourism infrastructure and implementing policy.
In keeping with BJP’s “religion friendly” image, the Budget had clear spiritual and religious tourism overtones. Rs 100 crore were given for the launch of a national mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD). There was even a special spiritual cities regeneration plan for Mathura, Amritsar, Gaya, Ajmer, Vellankani and Kanchipruam, for which an allocation of Rs 200 crore was announced.
“India’s rich cultural, historical, religious and natural heritage provides a huge potential for the development of tourism and job creation as an industry,” the finance minister said. Yet, apart from religion based projects, the other tourism development opportunities have perhaps been kept for development at some distant future date.
Ganga, the holy Hindu river, got the lion’s share of allocations with Rs 2037 crore. While, there is nothing wrong in wanting to save the river and this should have been done as of yesterday, taking action on saving and developing other major Indian rivers like the Narmada or the Mahanadi seem as imperative and immediate. Again, the Ganges ruled when it came to developing waterfronts and ghats. Rs 100 were allocated to develop river fronts in places such as Kedarnath, Allahabad, Varanasi and Delhi among others.
There is a clear need for the Government to demonstrate its ability to think of pan India tourism needs and not just regional or spiritual ones. The present Budget shows a lack pf homework done for putting forth well thought through proposals and there execution.