Shame and disrepute came India’s way when the issue of corruption reared its ugly head on the concluding day of the two-day first International Buddhist Conclave at Nalanda, some 85 kms south-east of Patna, in Nalanda on Sunday.
During an interaction Union Minister for Tourism Kumari Selja had with foreign delegates — 113 of whom had come — Nuanchan Pientam, chairman of NC Group, a leading tour operator from Bangkok, said the immigration officials unabashedly asked for money from foreign tourists who landed at Varanasi and Gaya airports.
Nuanchan, who has been bringing tourists to India for the last 30 years, said: “Earlier they used to ask for Rs 100. Now they demand $100 for a group of 15-20 tourists. If we do not pay, they keep our passports and harass us on the pretext of security, pulling out all our belongings from the luggage. The customs and immigration authorities at airports actively connive in this.”
All that a visibly embarrassed Selja could say was: “I have taken note of your problem and we will see what we can do.”
Later, talking to the Hindustan Times, Selja said: “Oh, we are taking up this issue very seriously and for the time being the tourism secretary has given his number to the group leader so that she is not harassed. We will also come up with a national toll-free helpline number for tourists in distress.”
Reacting to it, tourism secretary Sujit Banerjee, who was earlier the chief vigilance commissioner, told HT: “It’s such a sad commentary on our country… Corruption is a malaise on the society and is endemic in nature. We will take up the issue with the ministry of external affairs and pass instructions to have surprise checks, after deploying men in civvies at airports. Those caught will be handed out severe punishment.”
Nuanchan, on behalf of 37 other tour and travel agents from Thailand, had also complained to Bihar tourism minister Ram Parvesh Rai in this connection on January 28, a copy of which was with the Hindustan Times.