BHUBANESWAR: Even as Odisha is home to a number of incredible tourist destinations, including a World Heritage Site (WHS), surprisingly not a single spot from the State has found a place in the list of 17 sites to be developed as iconic tourist destinations as announced in the Union Budget 2019-20.
The sites identified in 11 States and one Union Territory in the country by the Union Ministry of Tourism under Iconic Tourist Sites Development Project include Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Qutub Minar in New Delhi.
Other sites are Colva beach in Goa, Amer Fort in Rajasthan, Somnath and Dholavira in Gujarat, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, Hampi in Karnataka, Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, Kaziranga in Assam, Kumarakom in Kerala and Mahabodhi in Bihar.
The sites will be developed in a holistic manner with a focus on connectivity, better facilities/experience for the tourists, skill development, the involvement of local community, promotion and branding by bringing in private investment.
Odisha has many such destinations, including the Sun Temple at Konark, which is a WHS; Ramsar site Bhitarkanika; Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon Chilika lake and Similipal, a part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves besides the Lalitagiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri Buddhist circuit that can match to the selected sites in terms of tourism potential. Intelligentsia is up in arms against such arbitrary selection of spots.
Heritage activist PK Padhi said the Centre’s apathy in not including any spot of Odisha is shocking in spite of the fact that the State is endowed with finest beaches with turquoise blue water and white sand, architectural treasures second to none, unrivalled natural heritage and multitude of tribal heritage.
Odisha government has also decided to lodge a protest.
Terming it as disappointing, Minister for Tourism and Culture Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi said he would take up the matter with the Tourism Ministry.
“Since all the selected sites are not WHSs, we thought at least one or two from the State would be selected. Though they claim the selection has been made on the basis of natural, architectural and religious importance, the omission of places like Chilika lake, Konark temple and Buddhist circuit raises questions on the selection procedure,” he said.
The BJP in its election manifesto had promised to give priority to Odisha in terms of tourism development and develop Puri as Spiritual Capital of the country.
But it is surprising that the party is silent on the selection of iconic destinations, Panigrahi pointed out.
The Minister, however, assured that BJD MPs would raise the issue during the Budget discussion in the Parliament and he would appeal to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to intervene.