GUWAHATI: With the anti-CAA agitation and corona outbreak dealing a blow to the tourism sector, the plight of around 40,000 local youths who are directly or indirectly engaged in wildlife tourism is pathetic. As if to cap it all, no scheme of the government covers such local youths.
The Tourism sector in Assam largely revolves around wildlife tourism namely Kaziranga National Park (KNP), Manas National Park (MNP), Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS), Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary (NWS) among many others across the State.
Around 20,000 local youths have been engaged in hotels, restaurants, jeep safari, elephant safari, dhaba, motels, folk artistes and other vocations in and around the KNP alone. The hotels near the KNP engage 60 per cent local youths during the season and 40 per cent permanent staff. Such youths earn around Rs 20,000 monthly. However, they failed to earn any money in two back-to-back seasons – because of the anti-CAA agitation in 2019-end and the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
The future of tourism season in the State is also uncertain. If such a situation continues for long, a number of small hotels may wind up their business before long, rendering such local youths jobless.
The Tour Operators' Association of Assam, the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (NE Chapter) and the Indian Association of Tour Operators (NE Chapter) recently appealed to the Subhas Das Committee, "Most of the tourism businesses in Assam are run by first-generation entrepreneurs with very small financial base. So, the government needs to take short and long-term measures to revitalize the tourism sector."
Talking to The Sentinel, Ranjit Saikia, the manager of a lodge near the KNP, said, "During the tourism season, we keep the local villagers – grocers and green grocers – engaged with us. However, the sources of income of all such people have gone dry now. The sorry state of affairs is that they're not covered by any of the government schemes. They're a frustrated lot now. We drew blank for two seasons – due to the anti-CAA agitation last year and COVID-19 outbreak now. We're also not sure as to what future awaits us."
Siva Gogoi, a youth working in a hotel near the KNP, said, "We've been sitting idle for about a year. We've already spent whatever savings we had. We're left with no opportunity to work even as daily-wage earners too. Besides, we've to look after our families. The government has given a one-time grant to those engaged in jeep safaris, nothing to us."
Pranjal Baruah, a hotel worker near the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, said, "People like us aren't covered by any government scheme. There are many youths like me who earn a living for their families by working as vendors. However, the anti-CAA agitation followed by the coronavirus outbreak has forced them to wind up their shops."
A restaurant owner pointed out, "How long can we keep our workers without earning anything? During the peak season, each of the local youths engaged with us earned around Rs 20,000 per month. During the lean season, they engage themselves in cultivation. If the government wants to save the wildlife tourism industry, it has to do something tangible. How can this industry withstand two back-to-back blows in the form of the anti-CAA movement and the corona outbreak?"