Covid-19 hits Uttarakhand’s tourism sector, operators demand compensation
The ongoing season used to be quite busy for tour, travel and hotel operators in Uttarakhand because of the rush for Char Dham pilgrimage and tourists flocking the state. But for the past five months, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the sector hard.
Hundreds of pilgrim-tourist vehicles, which used to be busy on routes for Char Dham, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath and other popular spots, are now parked at Bairagi camp Kumbh land and at other vacant plots.
Around 15,000 people are directly involved with the travel-tour trade in Haridwar and nearly 8,000 vehicles are involved in this industry.
According to Tour Travel Association, Haridwar, there are about 500 travel-tour agencies operating, of which, offices of around 95 percent of such agencies are shut for the past few months.
Traders associated to Tour Operator Association have now resorted to staging sit-in demonstrations and protests demanding adequate compensation, waiver of road tax and opening of Char Dham pilgrimage without any restrictions so that the tourism economy of the state gets back to normalcy.
“We have been writing to the state government and also meeting legislators and cabinet ministers to put forth our demands. It is high time that we are provided with a relief package,” said the president of Tour Operator Association Haridwar, Abhishek Ahluwalia.
Taxi Maxi State Association (TMA) president Girish Bhatia that all thirteen Akhadas are being provided one crore rupees each but the tour-travel industry has not been provided with any similar relief package or financial assistance, waiver of loan instalments for at least one year.
“From ferrying pilgrims, tourists to catering to government work during elections and disaster management, it is this sector which plays a pivotal role but now when it needs assistance to sustain, we are only getting meagre assurances,” said Bhatia.
Eyeing Mahakumbh fair to be held early next year, the tourism fraternity has urged the state government to ensure that the Kumbh Mela is organised amidst certain restrictions.
Ranipur Trader Association (RTA) president Sanjeev Chaudhari said, “We will take to the streets if Mahakumbh is not organised in its usual set up. The trader community here has been waiting for this grand fair for past 11 years and if it is not organised then it will bring traders, teerth purohits and travel-tour-hotel industry on verge of poverty,” said Chaudhari.
When contacted, cabinet minister Madan Kaushik said that state government is trying its best to ensure Char Dham pilgrimage witnesses more and more pilgrims and Mahakumbh is successfully organised but all depends on the impact of coronavirus pandemic at that time (January-April 2020).
Tourism minister Satpal Maharaj said the state government is making sincere efforts to help the tourism sector. “Tourism has been given the status of the industry in the state. Over 2.43 lakh people associated with the tourism sector have been provided financial assistance. Taxi-maxi, cab, auto, rickshaw, e-rickshaw, Vikram drivers are being provided Rs 1,000 each. Similarly, photographers registered with the tourism department are also being provided a similar amount,” he said.