The Telegraph
Thursday , July 24 , 2014
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Not a global magnet yet, but getting there
- State sees 44 per cent jump in foreign tourism though numbers are modest

Ranchi, July 23: Jharkhand’s popularity among foreign tourists is showing a healthy spurt every year even though the number is much below the six-figure mark while domestic inflow is stagnant, says a recent report released by Union tourism minister Shripad Yesso Naik.

According to the report, “Impact of Naxalism on Tourism”, released by the minister of state with independent charge in the Lok Sabha last week, the percentage rise of foreign tourists from 2012 to 2013 in Jharkhand was 44.1 per cent, second only to Maharashtra’s 56.7 per cent.

In terms of actual figures, Jharkhand received 45,995 visitors from across the globe in 2013, while in 2012, it received 31,909 international travellers. In 2011, the figure was a whopping 72,467. At the same time, domestic tourists, though boasting far bigger numbers, have seen a paltry rise of 0.4 per cent from 2012 to 2013, 2.04 crore in 2014 and 2.05 crore in 2013.

About Jharkhand, Union minister Naik said that the extent of impact of Naxalism on domestic/foreign tourists was “not very prominent”. He also stressed pushing tourism was primarily the state government’s responsibility.

For Jharkhand, which is land-locked but makes up for its lack of a seafront with sheer scenic diversity, these hopeful figures only point to the huge and unrealised tourism potential.

In its almost 14 years of existence, the state still has been unable to put in place a tourism policy.

Though the state has forests, hilly ranges, rivers and waterfalls, a rich tribal culture, revered pilgrim sites and unique wildlife resorts, the tourism sector has hardly seen any major development in the past 14 years.

Scenic spots scattered across the state — from Dassam Falls in Ranchi to the knolls of Netarhat on the Chotanagpur plateau to the tiger reserve in Palamau to natural hot water springs of Suraj Kund in Hazaribagh — lack basic facilities.

Rare exceptions are Dalma hills, near Jamshedpur, which after freeing itself from rebel clutches, is slowly building its infrastructure and a brand.

Pilgrim sites such as Babadham in Deoghar and Rajrappa in Hazaribagh attract huge crowds across the year and on special occasions. But, as the shelving of the recent Ranchi-Deoghar flight showed, the tourism department’s efforts are not enough.

Jharkhand High Court has frequently rapped the tourism department on more than one occasion for neglecting basic infrastructure upkeep, not building any or putting the security of visitors at risk.

A tourism department official attributed the rise of foreign travellers in Jharkhand to greater visibility in sports.

“The biggest contributor is cricket. In January 2013, the JSCA stadium in Ranchi’s Dhurwa made its debut with an India-England ODI. That same year, over a dozen international matches, including IPL, were held in Ranchi that naturally pulled a global crowd. This apart, we have also seen international athletics meets here,” he said.

On other reasons why foreigners come to Jharkhand, he said: “The month of Shravan sees a number of foreign tourists at Babadham in Deoghar. Overseas industry-based consultants and academics, especially tribal studies researchers, among others, keep coming to the state. The international airport has made a difference. And with the Maoist threat perception on a decline, we can hope for more visitors.”

What has the tourism department done? “Our contribution is technically zero,” the official admitted.

Contacted, state tourism secretary Vishnu Kumar said they had been publicising Jharkhand’s attractions through trade fairs and conventions. “But yes, we need to improve in terms of facilities and security. The sooner we manage to do, the better it is for tourism sector. We have a lot of plans,” he said.