New Delhi, Jun 12 : The Northeast may see a surge of young tourists soon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said each of the over 30,000 colleges in India should send a hundred students every year to the states in the Northeast. If the idea is implemented, the annual domestic tourist number will be a whopping 30 lakh.
Modi made the reference as part of elaborating the government’s Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat slogan mentioned in President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to Parliament. “We have 30,000 colleges in the country, why can’t 100 students from each of these colleges visit the Northeast once a year?” the Prime Minister asked in Rajya Sabha during discussion on the President’s address. “Imagine how it would help tourism, eco-tourism and help young people understand the problems of their brothers and sisters in the Northeast.”
Senior journalist and author B.G. Verghese said while it is not a new idea, the concept of familiarisation with the Northeast is a good one. “But it should be done with planning, may be letting students live in a university and play a football match,” said Verghese.
The Prime Minister’s move matches an idea his determined opponent and former DoNER minister Manishankar Aiyar had introduced. As DoNER minister, Aiyar introduced the practice of providing airfare as LTA to central government servants in order to holiday in the Northeast. The practice helped domestic tou-rism in the region.
Capacities in the hilly region are limited and infrastructure uneven. However, officials said if the government is determined to increase domestic tourist potential, it would also have a plan for backing it up with infrastructure like hotels, roads and transport. Verghese questioned if 30 lakh students are going to visit, can the railways cope with it? He felt concession tours during summer months would be a good idea.
Currently, air connectivity to the region is prohibitively expensive. Airfare from Calcutta to Bangkok costs less than a ticket from Delhi to Dimapur.
Modi also spoke of an idea he had floated a few years ago as Gujarat chief minister and referred to it during election speeches also. As Gujarat chief minister he wanted 200 women police personnel from each of the eight Northeast states to be deployed in Gujarat for two years.
“The families would visit and people would understand each other. This would help integration,” said Modi. The plan had not worked out, allegedly because the Centre had not given the nod to such a move.
Over the past two years, domestic tourism in northeastern states, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Nagaland, has risen by over 30 per cent. Coupled by a task of increasing capacities as envisioned in Vision 2020, the Northeast could be a new destination for domestic tourists.