Special tourist train to run on ‘Ambedkar Circuit’: Union minister

Union Tourism and Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy on Sunday announced a special tourist train to cover the “Ambedkar Circuit”.

Inaugurating a three-day conference of state tourism ministers in Dharamshala, Reddy said, “As many as 3,000 special railway coaches have been reserved for the promotion of tourism circuits. Like the Ramayana and Buddhist Circuits, a special train will be run on the Ambedkar Circuit.”

In June, a special train was run on the Ramayana Circuit, which covered prominent places associated with the life of Lord Ram, including Ayodhya and Janakpur in Nepal. Officials said this will become a regular feature, especially close to the 2024 opening of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the Dharamshala event, Reddy said the Tourism Ministry has drawn up an action plan for various circuits under its Swadesh Darshan scheme. Proposed in 2016, the Ambedkar Circuit covers Madhya Pradesh’s Mhow, Ambedkar’s birthplace; Nagpur, where he converted to Buddhism; the residence in Delhi where he lived during his last years; and Dadar in Maharashtra, where his body was cremated.

The three-day tourism ministers’ conclave will discuss issues related to the tourism sector, including attracting foreign tourists, increasing domestic tourism, comprehensive development of tourist destinations, and the promotion of indigenous activities in the domestic sector. There is also a special focus on eco-tourism, green tourism, medical tourism and wildlife tourism.

Reddy said the government is focused on responsible and sustainable tourism, and the National Tourism Policy, which will form the blueprint for these areas, will be out before the next Budget session. Green tourism and digital tourism will be the government’s key focus areas over the next decade, as per the new policy.

The policy document also identified factors that hamper the growth of the tourism sector in the country, which include “perceptions related to safety and security”, and weak engagement between the Centre and the states. Steps will be taken to address these issues, officials from the tourism ministry said.

At the conclave, there were also deliberations on how the tourism sector has taken a hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the steps that need to be taken to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Reddy said that in terms of domestic tourism, the Himalayan states were doing well after the pandemic.

Reddy, who is also the Union minister for the Development of North Eastern Region, claimed that 99 per cent of insurgent groups in the Northeast had given up arms and that now was the right time to focus on attracting tourism and investment. The government plans to work on building several new airports in the region. “There are 140 airports in the Northeast as of now, but by 2025, we plan to take this to 224,” he said.

To attract foreign tourists, the government had last year announced 5 lakh free e-visas on a first-come-first-served basis. However, Reddy told The Indian Express that this limit has not yet been exhausted since foreign tourist arrivals were hit in the wake of Omicron wave earlier this year. The e-visa facility has now been extended to the nationals of 160 countries.

The writer is in Dharamshala at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism

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