Outsiders minting money, locals have not really been able to capitalise: Satpal Maharaj
In the last one year tourism minister Satpal Maharaj grabbed headlines for several reasons. He has remained at loggerheads with the chief minister over interference in his ministry. He also made ‘larger than life’ announcements for promoting tourism in the hill state, which are yet to take shapedehradun Updated: Mar 12, 2018 21:24 IST
In the last one year tourism minister Satpal Maharaj grabbed headlines for several reasons. He has remained at loggerheads with the chief minister over interference in his ministry. He also made ‘larger than life’ announcements for promoting tourism in the hill state, which are yet to take shape. In an interview with Anupam Trivedi, minister claimed that this will be a promising year for the tourism sector. Excerpts:
How would you rate your work?
It has been great year. Let me put it in this way. It has been a great year for the ministry. We received various inputs valuable for tourism sector. I have also shared couple of ideas (with the officials) and now the coming months will be crucial for the implementation of those ideas and inputs.
Is tourism sector lagging behind?
Most of the investment that has come in the tourism sector is by the ‘outsiders’. The outsiders are minting money while the locals have not really been able to capitalise. This is my concern and priority, to see that tourism emerges the main source of livelihood. This year, we will be opening the traditional trekking route to Char Dham for adventure lovers. The trekking route dates back to Mahabharta era. I am sure it will be a game changer as the visitors will get altogether different feel.
How do you plan to prioritise the tourism sector?
Tourism in Uttarakhand is stereotyped. I, therefore have asked officials to diversify the sector majorly between - religious, adventure, culinary, and tribal tourism. Each one of them has a potential to draw huge numbers to the state. Since Uttarakhand is also known as the abode of gods so we have a plan to promote other areas as well. The areas falling in the Garhwal region are covered under the Char Dham pilgrimage. But this is not the case with places such as Pithoragarh and Munsyari in Kumaon. We have introduced a Bhagwati circuit (places that have temple of Hindu goddess). The initial response has been enthusiastic.
State gets huge number of domestic tourists but not enough niche guests
Yes, but we have to cater to each and every category of tourist, like Peru and Mexico do. They focus on low or medium income groups. As far as niche and foreign tourists are concerned, we are hoping to get it soon. The recent Yoga festival held at Rishikesh was fantastic. Several spiritual gurus who have huge following across the globe visited Rishikesh. Recently an international publication has named Rishikesh among top 40 tourist destinations in world. We are for sure going to benefit from it.
Besides yoga, what else do you have to offer?
Water sport is another big thing that attracts niche tourists. Tehri lake will see buzz from this year. It has been found feasible for landing a sea plane. White water rafting is already a well established sector pegged at Rs 12 crore annually. I fail to understand why tourism should not get beach camping in Rishikesh. If Goa beaches could be managed by the tourism department than why can’t we manage Ganga beaches in Uttarakhand?
Overall has the one year been a smooth sailing for you?
I am a workaholic and I just want to focus on my work. There are several things to do this year. Things would have been different, had we been able to finalise the long pending ‘tourism policy’. The policy is unnecessarily getting delayed. I will try to get the policy formulated without any further delay.