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The lowdown on U.P.’s tourism plans and the Taj Mahal

Projecting itself as the land of ‘Unlimited Possibilities,’ Uttar Pradesh has launched a tourism policy aimed at increasing the footfalls of domestic visitors by 15% and foreign tourists by 10%. The BJP government hopes the strategy will help to make the State the topmost tourist destination in the country; it is now at second spot.

What is the number of tourists?

In 2016, 21.48 crore tourists, including 31.56 lakh foreigners, visited the State, with the sites associated with Hindu culture such as Allahabad, Ayodhya, Vrindavan and Govardhan, and Agra — the land of the Taj — among the most popular. The policy is aimed at not only developing new tourist circuits and infrastructure on the public-private partnership model but also creating livelihood opportunities. The policy will be applicable for the next five years and the government says it will attract an annual investment of ₹5,000 crore and help 5 lakh people find employment, directly or indirectly. Under the 2018-19 budget, ₹70 crore was allotted for the implementation of the new tourism policy.

Is focus on religious tourism?

Cultural and religious tourism has been the focus of the government ever since the BJP came to power in 2017. The government plans to develop and promote 10 major circuits, like Ramayana, Krishna (Braj), Mahabharat, Shakti Peeth, Jain, Sufi/Kabir, Buddhist, spiritual, Bundelkhand and wildlife and eco-tourism. Various investment opportunities, economic incentives and benefits will be provided within 20 km of these circuits. The Tourism Department also plans to promote a “bread and breakfast” scheme and include ashrams in it. To encourage investment, these houses will be charged domestic water and power taxes.

What about Taj Mahal?

The government, however, has not revealed any elaborate plan for the Taj Mahal, except for the construction of a walkway to connect the monument with the other Mughal marvel, Agra Fort. Along with expenses occurred on the restoration of Shahjahan Park, the cost of this pathway will be ₹22 crore. In October last year, amid a controversy over the omission of the monument from a tourism booklet, the government said it had allotted ₹370 crore for a tourism development scheme for Agra, of which ₹156 crore was set aside for the Taj Mahal and areas near it. The World Bank will assist the government in this scheme, which has been sent to the Centre for approval. The scheme will also involve the restoration of Agra’s Kachpura and Mehtab Bagh, construction of a sewage treatment plant and a visitors’ centre, and revamp of traffic arrangements on the western entrance to the monument.

Why is it not on the list?

The latest budget has no special allocation for the Taj Mahal. It is an extension of the BJP government’s first budget released in 2017, in which the monument did not find a place among the sites to be developed and promoted under “cultural tourism.” The list primarily consisted of other religious and cultural sites, with ₹1,240 crore allocated for Swadesh Darshan Yojana through the Ramayana, Buddha and Krishna Circuits in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura.

Besides being an artefact of unmatched splendour, the Taj Mahal is the highest revenue-earning heritage structure in the country, with 7-8 million visitors annually. According to the Union Ministry of Culture, the Taj brought in revenue of ₹75 crore from 2013 to 2016. Last year, during a visit to the Taj Mahal, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath remarked that if the “security and facility” could be upgraded, the number of tourists — Indians and foreigners — visiting Agra could be increased to 2.5-3 lakh daily against the current 40,000-50,000.

The government’s next big tourism challenge, however, is the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2019. A budget of ₹1,500 crore has been earmarked for the congregation at the Sangam.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 12:38:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/the-lowdown-on-ups-tourism-plans-and-the-taj-mahal/article22846098.ece

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