BHUBANESWAR: The Odisha government has been "re-looking" into some of the provisions in the guidelines for regulation of visit of foreign tourists to areas inhabited and frequented by Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) such as Bondas, Dongaria Kandhas and other such communities.
Odisha Tourism and Culture Minister Ashok Chandra Panda said this while replying to a question in the Assembly. "The guideline on the tours of foreign tourists to tribal areas is not meant to restrict them, rather to regulate their visits," Panda said.
Rejecting allegations that the tourism department's guidelines lead to decline in foreign tourist flow to the state, Panda claimed the number has instead increased. While 64,719 foreign tourists visited the state in 2012, the number increased to 66,675 in 2013 and 71,426 in 2014, he pointed out.
Stating that the state government has been trying to augment infrastructural facilities in tribal dominated tourist places, the minister said a committee headed by the home secretary has held two meetings to re-look the guidelines. Senior officials of Odisha Police's intelligence wing, tourism department, scheduled tribe and scheduled caste welfare department are members of the committee, which will take a final decision on possible changes in the guidelines.
The state government on July 26, 2013 implemented a guideline to regulate the movement of foreign tourists in tribal dominated areas in view of a case in the National Human Rights Commission. A petition was filed in the NHRC regarding charges of alleged prevalence of "Human Safari" in tribal dominated areas in Odisha.
The PVTG communities mostly reside in 13 tribal dominated districts such as Koraput, Malakangiri, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Kandhamal, Boudh, Balangir and Sonepur. Ethnic tourism has been a major attraction for foreign tourists in Odisha, the home to 62 tribal communities including 13 PVTG.
The tour operators said the restriction on the visit of foreign tourists to tribal areas was made stricter after the Maoists had abducted two Italian nationals - Claudio Colangelo and Paolo Bosusco - from the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district on March 17, 2012.
"Odisha has been losing a major tourist market. In all other states, foreign tourists are allowed to visit the tribal areas. There is no reason why they should not be allowed in Odisha," said Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha chairman J K Mohanty.