H C Katoch
During over past few months the Promotion of Rural Tourism has become a hot topic and different views and strategies have been outlined both by the Government and Public stalwarts which appeared in the headlines of the print and electronic media. I, too, have much to say on this topic based on my experience over a decade while implementing Rural Tourism Schemes of the Ministry of Tourism Government of India.
The concept of Rural Tourism was introduced by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2005 in the country. 36 villages were covered under this programme and Naggar in our neighboring state Himachal Pradesh was selected which was one of the best success story of that time. UNDP after completing its programme handed over its implementation to Ministry of Tourism Govt. of India and recommended to assign this task to NGOs for implementation in the country.
However, before formally handing over this scheme, about 42 NGOs from all over the country were invited to Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) Gujarat for their capacity building in 2008 in two intervals. SEEAS and PEACE NGO’s from the then J&K State were invited to participate in the training programme. Two weeks intensive training was given and later on field visits were carried out in the length and breadth of the country. Further, Ministry of Tourism GOI arranged country wide visits, for NGOs in North, East, West and South where tourist villages were shown and interaction with people and the NGOs which were implementing rural tourism schemes was arranged.
In our State at that time, 50 villages were selected by the representatives of public i.e MLA’s of that time- 28 in Kashmir and 22 in Jammu.
Its implementation comprised hardware part that was left to state machinery i.e Eng wing of Director Tourism and software part was to be implemented by NGOs that were selected by Director Tourism after proper verification and track record of experience of the NGOs.
The selected NGOs of the state were asked to enter into Memorandum of Uderstanding (MOU) with Ministry of Tourism GOI for implementation of the software part. As a consequence of this, the selected NGOs implemented the scheme in the State now UT.
NGOs after conducting baseline survey of the Rural Tourist villages suggested the need of infrastructure to be developed on the basis of which the women empowerment through capacity building in the form of vocational training was to be achieved. This was aimed at income generation that will empower women and also to checkmate their drunken husbands where such situation prevails in rural areas and rear their children as good citizens in the society. Finally, local population was involved with formulation of Tourist Development Committees by the NGOs so as to produce attractive/ value added products for sale and provide facilities for the tourists, say “Home Stays” etc. This concept already existed in case of Mata Vaishno Devi Yatries in the past.
The Government intervention in the tourism sector is generally focused on infrastructure development, while the other most important part for tourist attraction is the involvement of communities. There are many aspects that remain out of the purview of Govt. apparatus as these deal with outside the rules and regulations and are in the domain of subtle thoughts and emotions. Hence, communication with the community is essential through such agencies that are in communion with general public. This role goes to the NGOs who have established contacts with rural community members by various means like participation in their functions, marriages and for supporting the local demands of their welfare.
Some of the activities are a signal to involve people for tourism development through capacity building is enumerated. These comprise i) sensitization ( including gender sensitization ) awareness building social mobilization and interpretation, ii) to train people in tourism service capacity building and visitor handling skills, iii) to impart training in local skills and photography etc iv) promote local folk culture v) yoga and naturopathy etc. Beside this, the rural tourism site is promoted by way of awareness through distribution of publicity folders, wall paintings, hoisting of web page and display of Signages at appropriate places that attract the attention of passer byes.
Further the community members need to be taken to such sites and places to different tourist destinations in other parts of the country so as to educate them as how to attract and deal with tourists.
Despite various Government Development Authorities for tourism functioning in the UT, there does not appear any specific flow of tourist whether seasonal or round the year at different tourist destinations identified for tourist attraction and arrival. There is a specific need to access the impact that could not be created through post evaluation of the functioning of government machinery dedicated to the tourist promotion in the UT. This exercise is to be conducted by such agencies that are working in this field other than the Government Departments.
We have over 10 million pilgrims coming to Vaishno Devi every year and they do not have any circuit of tourist attraction to prolong their stay in view of the lack of required infrastructure and presentable handicrafts, handloom or other attractive items that the tourist can purchase. We send them empty handed except for dry fruit of Kashmir Valley. Thus there is ample scope for exploitation of tourist potential in our UT. This aspect too needs people’s participation. Here also private sector/NGO’s role is important.
(The author is former Director Planning J&K Govt)
H C Katoch