Outgoing Bihar minister says visibility and infrastructure our achievements

Javed Iqbal Ansari can be credited for kick-starting some long-stalled projects, apart from delving into PPP mode for setting up hotels at important tourist destinations. As he takes a look back at his eventful tenure, to his understanding, enhancing outreach and rejuvenating key tourism products have been his major accomplishments.

“I have had the opportunity to lead the Bihar tourism department for one and a half years, and our efforts to propel state’s tourism offerings to a larger audience has been widely accepted and appreciated,” says Javed Ansari. Crediting CM Nitish Kumar for envisaging a road map for making Bihar visible to India and the wider world, he says, “we have taken earnest measures in that direction. Buddhism remains a chief peg of our tourism offering and we have focused on strengthening that aspect.”

Sharing that lack of standard accommodation remained a major concern as he took over, he resorted to PPP mode to bring in much needed investments. “There were a lot of government hotels that were in shambles; lack of standard hotels to accommodate international tourists was all too evident. We rolled out a number of projects on PPP mode to ensure that quality accommodation is made available to our guests,” he says. “Projects in Bodh-Gaya and Nalanda are already underway. I have personally seen to it that land doesn’t remain a constraint in these activities. We are on our way to opening a five star hotel in Bodh-Gaya and in Nalanda – land has been made available for it. I hope that with our government again at helm, the process will be expedited and we will see to it that it finalizes soon,” he adds.

222Diversification of tourism products also remained high on his agenda, he told us. “We have also tried to diversify our products by bolstering facilities at Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Be it improving connectivity between Patna and West Champaran or developing accommodation facilities there, we have done well,” says Ansari. “It is not a co-incidence that Valmiki Tiger Reserve is one of the best rated reserves in the country,” he adds.

Further strengthening the spiritual tourism offering, construction of ropeway on Mandaar Mountain – which is a huge tourist draw and a spiritual getaway for Jains and Hindus – has also been initiated, he shared. “The tender has been awarded to RITES and an advance payment of four crores has already been made. I believe that the construction will commence from coming January and should be wrapped up in eighteen months’ time,” he told us. Hoping that this project would rejuvenate an ancient center of pilgrimage and help it grow as a major tourist attraction, he added that, “There are plethora of such activities that have been initiated.”

However, to his own understanding, the biggest achievement of his tenure has been adding more visibility and outreach to traditional events like the Sonepur Fair – which now has an international feel to it. “We created a new attraction to our events which gave us much better footfalls than ever before. I do not recollect having so many foreign visitors attending our events. Previously, our events remained unnoticed, it is heartening to see that people are beginning to take note of what we have to offer as a state,” he says.

Funding continues to remain a major hurdle, little assistance from the center making matters worse

Outgoing Bihar minister says visibility and infrastructure our achievementsIt was not the dearth of ideas or products, but plain lack of funds to execute projects that stalled his undertakings, says Ansari. “Funding is a major roadblock for us. When I took over, a proposal for two hundred crores was forwarded to the centre for undertaking various activities. But, before the elections were announced, we received only twenty crores,” he says. “We have heard a lot from the centre regarding funds, but nothing as yet as materialized,” he adds.

He further notes that although he had taken major steps in ramping up visibility of important products and events, a lot more needed to be done in this regard. “I admit that one of the glaring shortfalls of our department has been the lack of visibility. We have created a roadmap to address this deficiency, however due to time constraints a lot of it could not be implemented,” he shares. “I hope that in the coming years we will fix these anomalies and our new government will carry forward the good work we initiated in the last term,” adds Ansari.

Focus on creating basic infrastructure remained a top priority for the government and with so much ground to cover, tourism sometimes was forced to recede in the background, he reasons, explaining why expenditure on tourism remained relatively low in the state. “Naturally Bihar being a financially weak state, we had to prioritize our needs. We needed roads, electricity and hospitals first. A destination can never cater to visitors without basic infrastructural assets in place,” he argues. “A lot of ground has been covered in that direction. We will overcome these as I am sure that tourism will remain very high in the list of our government’s priority in the days to come,” he adds.

Identifying new products, positioning tourism as a chief contributor to state’s coffers key future endeavours

Agreeing that a lot remained to be done and a number of destinations remained to be identified, leave apart market them, he says that it is a welcome challenge for the state. “There are a number of destinations in the state that have not been marketed and many even remain unidentified. Possibilities are endless, it will remain a welcome challenge for us to handpick and nurture them,” he says.

He reckons that tourism, until now, remained a silent industry, but with growing awareness and its ripple effect in generating employment – people’s perception about tourism as an industry is changing for good. “Tourism is creating employment in hinterland – Mandaar is an apt example of this transformation – and this is changing the mindset of masses that tourism is an elitist activity,” he says. “Shopkeepers, guides, rickshaw-pullers and lodge owners are all making decent money since we have focused on augmenting its infrastructure. Transforming tourism from a silent industry to a chief contributor to the state’s coffers is our biggest challenge and we are geared up to take it head-on in the years to come,” he says with a degree of confidence.

He shares that resurrecting the ancient ruins of Vikramshila remained a project very close to his heart. “It is a project which has implications not only for the state but for the nation. It is a national treasure and not only state’s asset. However, the sheer scale of project is so vast that it needs ample assistance from the centre. I think we need somewhere around 1,200 crore rupees,” he explains. “Now it is for the centre to help us with the same. We cannot carry forward the project on our own. We simply do not have the funds,” he adds.

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