With the six main tourist sites on the Buddhist Circuit in Uttar Pradesh presenting a picture of neglect and lacking basic amenities like clean toilets and good roads, the State Tourism Department is now exploring the possibility of roping in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to provide funds for infrastructure development. Sarnath, Kushinagar, Kaushambi, Kapilvastu, Sankisa and Shravasti are the prominent Buddhist sites in the State.

This follows the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) declining to provide a loan for development of the Buddhist circuit in the State. A meeting was held in New Delhi last week between the representatives of JICA and the Central Government officials at which tourism officials from the State were present. The Secretary and Director-General U.P. Tourism, Manoj Kumar Singh, told The Hindu that a proposal of Rs.390 crore was submitted to JICA in 2005 for Phase II development of the circuit with a 10-year perspective till 2015.

‘No consultant’

“Under the terms of the proposal a consultant was to be appointed by the Government of India for undertaking a project appraisal but till date no consultant has been named. JICA has declined to take up the project,” Mr. Singh said.

The Buddhist circuit formed the focal point of discussion at the International Buddhist Conclave 2012, which concluded in Varanasi on Sunday, with complaints galore from foreign delegates and Buddhist monks about the sites lying in a state of neglect, with some sites even desecrated. The Secretary and Director General U.P. Tourism said the representatives of the ADB met him during the course of the conclave. Mr. Singh said a project proposal of about Rs.400 to Rs.500 crore would be submitted to the Bank through the Union Tourism Ministry and the Department of Economic Affairs.

The fresh proposal will include four-lane approach roads to all six Buddhist sites, particularly from Gorakhpur to Kushinagar and from Kapilvastu to Lumbini (the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal), and strengthening the power distribution network. Some of the projects which were included in the Phase II proposal submitted to JICA have become obsolete and would be replaced by new project proposals. Phase I of the Buddhist circuit was launched in 1996 with Rs.76-crore funding from OECF of Japan (now JICA). The money was used in strengthening Sarnath-Kushinagar road, construction of two tourist bungalows at Ghazipur and Dohri Ghat (in Mau district), installation of two power sub-stations in Kushinagar and Shravasti and strengthening of Kapilvastu-Shravasti road.

Problem area

Since access to the Buddhist tourist sites is a major problem area, an international airport has been planned at Kushinagar. About 615 acres of land has been acquired by the State Government and compensation paid with barbed wire fencing installed around the area. Bids were invited for developing the international airport in 2009 and 2010 but there were no takers on ground of financial viability. Now a fresh start has been made by the Samajwadi Party regime with a meeting with the Central Government likely to be held next week. The project cost of the international airport is around Rs.350 crore with Rs.70 crore from the Centre through viability gap funding.

The proposed airport at Kushinagar fulfils the mandatory provision of having a runway of 3,200 metres suitable for the landing of international flights. The nearest airport at Babatpur in Varanasi has a runway of 2200 metres on which only small planes can land.

Another 80 acres of land have been identified for constructing hotels of three, four and five star categories in close proximity of the proposed airport.