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Bihar makeover bid with tourism police

Patna, Oct. 23: Waking up to the heavy toll its infamous law and order record has taken of a potential money-spinner, the Bihar government has decided to launch a “tourism police force” to protect holidaymakers.

The decision comes on the eve of the Rajgir Mahotsav — a three-day jamboree at one of the most popular resorts in the state — and a fortnight ahead of the expected inauguration of the air services linking Gaya with Bangkok and Colombo.

The Union ministry of civil aviation is likely to throw open the Gaya international airport from November 6, connecting the Buddhist pilgrimage centre with Bangkok and Colombo. The air link is expected to double the number of foreign tourists visiting Gaya.

But officials admitted that the flights are of little use unless the ganglords on the pilgrimage belt are reined in. “We will introduce tourism police in states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra to address the perception that Bihar is an unsafe place to visit,” state tourism minister Ashoke Singh said.

According to a plan cleared by the state home department, policemen from the tourism force will escort visitors to their destination and back to their hotels. “They will be trained in tackling the goons as well as making tourists familiar with the state’s tourist destinations,” said junior tourism minister Sanjay Paswan.

Paswan said the state government will first instal four tourism thanas at Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Vaishali and Patna.

The Union government had conceived the tourism force in 1998, and the scheme debuted in Rajasthan five years later. Bihar, which earns a substantial amount from Buddhist tourists, has now decided to adopt the same system.

A Parliament committee visited Vaishali to study the facilities available. This Buddhist destination is expected to get a facelift to attract Sri Lankan tourists. The Centre is also releasing a special grant for Vaishali’s development.

The ministry of tourism has prepared a roadmap for Buddhist heritage sites in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. According to ministry sources, Rajgir, a holy site for both Buddhists and Jains, alone earns between Rs 15 to 18 crore every year from domestic and foreign tourists.

The Rajgir Mahotsav will herald the tourist season in the region. A cultural extravaganza, including performances by Sudha Chandran, Pankaj Udhas and Maitri Pahari, has been lined up for the festival, organised by the state tourism department.

“We have our limitations, the major one being a bad image. But Bihar will have to cash in on its cultural-historical legacy,” Singh said.

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