Bihar’s Buddhist tourism sector sends SOS to Centre, seeks financial bail out
A prominent tourism body in Bihar has written to Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Prabhu and Union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel seeking a financial bailout for hundreds of medium and small businesses, sucked dry in the past 12-14 months due to the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact, costing roughly 4 crore jobs, as per industry estimates.
They have approached Suresh Prabhu expecting he would raise their voice like he had asked civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri to allow fully vaccinated people to travel to help the tourism sector recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Association of Buddhist Tour Operators (ABTO) are engaged in Bihar’s Buddhist circuit, most popular among the state’s eight tourism circuits and which covers sites like Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment; Rajgir, where Buddha gave his famed Lotus sermons; Nalanda, the site of ancient university and Buddhist learning; East and West Champaran and Vaishali, where Buddha delivered his last sermon. These are also the most popular destinations in Bihar among foreign visitors.
“But all this has become history now. Since one and a half years, there has been no tourism activity. Though the total lockdown was announced in March 2020, tourism activities started getting hit in December 2019 due to the coronavirus, and by January 2020, foreign tourists started leaving the country. Imagine the life of people who have been totally dependent upon domestic and foreign guests, sales of tour packages and local crafts. There has been no work and no earnings,” Kaulesh Kumar, the ABTO general secretary, said.
The association is seeking interest-free long-term loans for tour operators and agencies; tourist transport operators and hotels along with a moratorium of 24 months for existing loan payments.
“Hotel business or the entire hospitality sector is the worst affected by corona. Many hotels at the heritage city of Bodh Gaya are on the verge of closure,” Mrityunjay Kumar Rai, general manager of Hotel Anand International in Bodh Gaya and also an ABTO member, said. He said hoteliers are in dire need of a waiver of GST (goods and services tax) and exemption from payment of electricity bills, if they are to see through this crisis.
ABTO’s Kaulesh Kumar said most of the hotels were facing a similar situation and the majority of travel agents and operators had shifted to other professions like farming, hawking of vegetables and even manual labour to sustain their families.
“We have sent the letter not only to Suresh Prabhu, but a copy has also been sent to Union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel to take our requests and requirements to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), ‘’ he said.
SK Singh, vice president, Tourism Association of Bihar is backing ABTO’s demand.
Drawing attention to the plight of tourism transport operators, Shibani Bhattacharya, head of the ABTO secretariat, says they should be allowed to operate without commercial tourist car road permits for two years. “In fact many have taken property on lease, and as the pandemic and lockdown have stopped earnings, they are unable to pay back the lease money, “she said. She adds that those in the tourism business need financial support for the next two years.
State tourism minister Narayan Prasad could not be contacted to comment on the issue.