The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tea tourism grant slashed to half

Siliguri, Feb. 19: The central pie for the development of tea tourism in Bengal has shrunk and the planters have put the blame on the state government’s shoddy handling of the whole project.

In 2005, the Centre had promised Rs 7.6 crore for the promotion of tea tourism in the state (not Rs 7.9 crore as announced, by the chief minister and other state ministers). Now, however, the grant has been slashed to Rs 3.89 crore, about half the amount promised earlier.

That the funds have shrunk came to light at a news meet held today by Gopal Lama, the deputy director, north, of the state tourism department, on a separate issue (regulation of taxis at New Jalpaiguri railway station).

“Of the total amount of Rs 3.89 crore, Rs 3.11 crore has already been sanctioned,” Lama said responding to a question. “Hila and Mohua tea estates in the Dooars, both run by the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation, have been identified as the sites where we will build infrastructure for tourism. Besides, some wayside amenities will be set up at Murti.”

When asked what happened to the earlier Rs 7.6-crore scheme, Lama said: “Not all the schemes were approved by the central government which is why the final package now stands at Rs 3.89 crore only.”

Industry source have blamed the slash on the state government’s insistence on promoting tea tourism on its own, and only in gardens owned by it (see chart).

“This just goes on to show the shoddy manner in which the state government has handled the entire tea tourism issue,” said Raj Basu, the working president of Eastern Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators’ Association. “If the government had understood its role as a facilitator and worked towards creating infrastructure (like roads and electricity) and human resource for developing an entire tea-tourism circuit with the participation of the private planters, the money would have benefited the state.”

Basu further added: “If an entire circuit was developed, we could have created infrastructure to entertain 3,000 tourists at a time. But instead, the government chose to do it alone in its own gardens. Now, the benefits will be too insignificant to contribute to the overall growth of north Bengal.”

“About two years ago, I was asked to prepare a project proposal by the district administration for funds,” said Manoj Chamaria, the managing director of Phanskhowa Tea Estate, which was once selected for the tea tourism pilot project before the government did an about-turn. “Later, I got to hear that the government had changed its mind. Nevertheless, I have written to the district administration once again asking for funds, without which no ambitious project can be taken up.”

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