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Draft National Tourism Policy: Placing central bureaucracy, corporates at core

By R Sreedhar*The new draft National Tourism Policy is really a mockery of the policy formulation process. For one, the government must be clear of what policy is and what are structures and process. While a policy needs to be a short statement of the of the intent of the government which follows up with the required legislative and procedural processes, the draft produced by the Ministry is clearly a consultant’s rambling on the basis of some wishful thinking and imagination, and reads like a badly drafted project report.
Poor understanding of the situation on the ground and the ways in which people and tourism are intertwined is as much an ingredient as is perhaps a vested interest to gain bureaucratic and corporate control.
The draft document made available for a limited window for response states that the vision is to “develop and position India as a ‘Must EXPERIENCE’ and ‘Must REVISIT’ destination for global travelers whilst encouraging Indians to explore their own country and realise the potential of tourism as a major engine for economic growth, employment generation and poverty alleviation in a responsible, inclusive framework”.
This clearly points out that the government has a limited vision of tourism as a commodity to be sold and capitalized. This limited vision percolates down the entire fifty-page narrative. The environmental, social, ecological and tribal concerns, as with issues of security and safety at the operational level and experience of travel with education, learning and human transformation has completely been missed or deliberately avoided.
Stemming from such a limited vision, the policy states that “for effective delivery of the New Tourism Policy 2015, tourism development has to effectively happen in a way that leverages all critical levers for tourism economy development, including:
  • Ensuring alignment of the States and the Union Territories based on a common agenda and a co-operative, synergized approach.
  • Creating a framework for engaging with local bodies productively.
  • Recognising that Tourism development is also synonymous with the growth of the trade and industry, making it necessary to effectively coordinate efforts for cross-sectoral benefit.
  • Activation of a responsible framework for growth that can be achieved by engaging with the larger civil society.”
What translates out of this is a paternalistic and business mission. Further, the policy is confused about what is a “mission” and objectives, and repeats a set of, if not contradictory, confusing signals. Most concerns of the community or civil society is more a mere after-thought.
This is amply demonstrated by the last of the mission statement, “Ensure meaningful, equitable community participation in tourism development”, as well as in the avowed objective -- “evolve a framework for tourism development, which is Government-led, private sector driven and community welfare oriented.”
Ever since the Sarkaria Commission report, in the context of cooperative federalism being spoken about in loud tones, the need today is to accelerate policies and programmes from ground-up. The failure of the State corporate-led economic development and its propensity to be virtually job destroying is clear from the current rural context.
India’s cultural and natural diversity demands more creative ways of designing a variety of solutions. However, the policy wants to usurp even the rights of State governments, as it says, “Tourism should also be placed in the concurrent list of the constitution for effective legislation to make tourism into a national agenda. National prioritization of the sector is critical to ensuring focus, investment, alignment and competitiveness needed as precursors to maximizing the impact of the tourism sector for the benefit of India at large.”
It is unfortunate that the States are becoming mute spectators in the rough ride of the economy and the Central government. However, the policy itself concedes that people’s participation is critical when it says, “It is therefore necessary to build a robust partnership between the Centre, States and UTs, local bodies, Industry and the civil society to achieve sustainable growth in a public-private-people’s participation (PPPP) framework. “
Mere tinkering or cosmetic changes to the draft document is going to be hugely detrimental to the people involved in tourism and the communities where tourism activities take place. It calls for a wide-spread process of community oriented activities to participate in the design and development of the policy which definitely needs to move away from the current tendency of commodifying everything and controlling each rupee.
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*With Environics Trust, New Delhi. Contact: environics@gmail.com

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