The government is seeking Central aid to the tune of ₹378 crore to shore up waterbodies as part of a set of measures to tackle the twin phenomena of rapid urbanisation and a tourism upsurge, Tourism Minister K. Lakshminarayanan said on Wednesday.
Opening the 9th edition of Pondicherry Heritage Festival (PHF’ 2023) that is themed on ‘Responsible Tourism’, Mr. Lakshminarayanan said a representation submitted on Wednesday to a visiting Central Water Commission team had sought funds to build bed dams and retaining walls of rivers and shoring up lakes and ponds, to store surface water, especially as the region lacked a perennial river, was dependent on rain and grappling with groundwater depletion.
If an estimated 19 lakh domestic tourists chose to visit Puducherry annually — a figure far higher than the city’s population — and the place figured among the most searched destinations online in the country for leisure tourism, it also signalled that this was the right time to think about responsive and responsible tourism, Mr. Lakshminarayanan said.
Touching on the pressures of rapid urbanisation and increased tourist influx on the city’s infrastructure, the Minister said the government considered it especially imperative to meet the challenges of tourism growth and the rapid pace of urbanisation of Puducherry — almost 60% of the population urbanised — that was exerting stress on the existing infrastructure, from roads to sewerage and groundwater systems.
Acknowledging the serious deterioration in water quality and poor condition of roads, Mr. Lakshminarayanan said both issues were being tackled on a priority basis. While a team had already visited Odisha to study the model of 24X7 drinking water supply established in Puri, the government was also thinking of decreasing the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) value by approaching the NLCIL which was successfully treating 90 mld of wastewater to potable levels through micropurification and consider drawing about 30mld through pipelines for reuse in Puducherry.
The Minister also said in addition to the relaid Cuddalore and ECR segments, better roads would be completed in three months in Puducherry and Karaikal, with the PWD preparing to rebuild municipality roads. In fact, Puducherry and Karaikal had been selected under Swadesh Darshan 2.0 as reward for being the first to utilise ₹124 crore under Phase I of the scheme for ramping up pilgrim infrastructure and beach beautification.
Pointing out that responsible tourism was a two-way street, Mr. Lakshminarayanan said that while the government was obligated to provide better infrastructure and services, the onus fell on tourists to adopt responsible practices. “While tourism success can give a fillip to the development of local economy, we need to ensure sustainability of the place to handle an increased influx of visitors and it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that we preserve the beauty, peace and heritage of the place and keep it clean and green”, he said.
The Minister presented prizes to winners of the quiz competition for school students. The 45-day festival that concludes on March 15 will feature a variety of events across multiple venues.
Explaining the choice of theme for PHF’23, Kakoli Banerjee, co-founder of PPH and member PondyCAN, said while effective tourism promotion had elevated the city’s favourability as a sought-after holiday destination, it was now imperative to focus on the flipside of the rising influx of visitors in terms of considerable stress on infrastructure, heritage, ecosystems and quality of life of residents.
While responsible tourism would underpin the festival events, a round table on the theme on March 15 would involve various stakeholders in evolving a framework of action to strike a balance between increased tourist patronage and sustainability of the destination, she said.
Satish Nallam, president, Alliance Francaise in Puducherry, said it was fitting for the PHF, which had grown in stature over the years as evident from the significant increase in the number of partners, the diversity of events and the duration of the fete, to focus on a theme of importance. Ashok Panda, co-convenor, INTACH, also spoke.