Union Tourism and Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy on Sunday announced a special tourist train to cover the “Ambedkar circuit”.
Opening a three-day conference of state tourism ministers in Dharamshala, Reddy said: “As many as 3,000 special railway carriages have been reserved for the promotion of tourist tours. Like the Ramayana and Buddhism circuits, a special train will run on the Ambedkar circuit.
In June, a special train was put into circulation on the Ramayana circuit, which covered important places associated with the life of Lord Ram, including Ayodhya and Janakpur in Nepal. Officials said this would become a regular feature, especially as the 2024 opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya draws near.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the Dharamshala event, Reddy said the Ministry of Tourism has drawn up an action plan for various tours under its Swadesh Darshan programme. Offered in 2016, the Ambedkar Tour covers the Mhow of Madhya Pradesh, birthplace of Ambedkar; Nagpur, where he converted to Buddhism; the Delhi residence where he spent his last years; and Dadar in Maharashtra, where his body was cremated.
The three-day conclave of tourism ministers will discuss issues related to the tourism sector, including attracting foreign tourists, increasing domestic tourism, comprehensive development of tourist destinations and promoting indigenous activities in the domestic sector. Particular emphasis is also placed on ecotourism, green tourism, medical tourism and wildlife tourism.
Reddy said the government is focusing on responsible and sustainable tourism, and the National Tourism Policy, which will be the blueprint for these areas, will be released ahead of the next budget session. Green tourism and digital tourism will be the main areas of government intervention in the next decade, according to the new policy.
The policy document also identified factors that are hindering the growth of the tourism sector in the country, including “perceptions related to safety and security” and weak engagement between the Center and the States. Steps will be taken to address these issues, Tourism Ministry officials said.
At the conclave, there were also deliberations on how the tourism sector has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and what steps need to be taken to return to pre-pandemic levels. Reddy said that in terms of domestic tourism, the Himalayan states are doing well after the pandemic.
Reddy, who is also the Union Minister for Development of the North East Region, claimed that 99% of the insurgent groups in the North East had given up arms and now was the time to focus on attracting tourism and investment. The government plans to work on the construction of several new airports in the region. “There are currently 140 airports in the North East, but by 2025 we plan to increase that number to 224,” he said.
To attract foreign tourists, the government last year announced 5 lakh free e-visas on a first-come, first-served basis. However, Reddy told The Indian Express that limit has yet to be exhausted since foreign tourist arrivals were hit following the Omicron wave earlier this year. The electronic visa facility has now been extended to nationals of 160 countries.
The writer is in Dharamshala at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism