Itanagar, May 25: Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu has termed tourism the only viable and available sector that could help the State to develop economically followed by agriculture and allied sectors.
Speaking at the 12th Arunachal Pradesh Tour Operators’ Association (APTOA) Travel Congress here on Friday, Khandu observed that despite being touted as the power house of the country, development of hydro-power has many facets that need to be addressed.
Khandu 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 said.
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 the 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 asserted that despite the increase the State is 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.
The Chief Minister 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 been. He said 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.
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 a few relaxations our tourism sector can grow in leaps and bounds,” he observed.
The chief minister called upon local businessmen and entrepreneurs to invest in the tourism sector and create infrastructure favored by high-end tourists.
In this regard he suggested budding entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Deen Dayal Swawlamban Yojna, which offers 30% subsidy to loans up to Rs 1 crore for projects including the tourism sector.
Union Minister of State for Home Home Kiren Rijiju, who in fact suggested holding of the APTOA Congress, speaking on the occasion emphasized projecting and promoting Arunachal Pradesh as a cultural tourism hotspot.
On the controversy over the Center’s view to relax to some extent the purview of RAP and PAP, he said the demand has been made by successive State governments to increase the inflow of foreign tourists. He said the relaxation if made will not affect the demographic profile or creates any security lapses.