Greater synergy for better governance
You have been allotted charge of three ministries - Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation - in the present government. What is your vision? What are the new initiatives you have in mind?
A very good synergy exists between the three ministries - Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. I understand that this synergy has to be tapped and implemented in letter and spirit. Our vision is to take India’s heritage and culture to all corners of the world, via tourism. This is the very reason that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given me the responsibility of all three ministries, especially when we talk about tourism. Through tourism, we are earning about one lakh seven thousand crore rupees of foreign exchange for the Government of India, which amounts to 6.85 per cent of the total GDP. There exists a good synergy between the three and we are working on each of them extensively.
The issue of visa-on-arrival has been a milestone achievement for the tourism ministry. What are your plans to further this endeavour?
As of now, 43 counties get this facility in India, through which we have seen an increase to the tune of almost 68,000 tourists to India. With that we are touching only 42 per cent of international tourist market. The addition of more countries like China, Spain, Italy, and UK would augment our tourism market. The announcement by the Finance Minister to extend visa-on-arrival facility to 150 countries in stages from the current 43 will also be a big step in boosting tourism.
There have been cases of sexual harassment and rapes of foreign tourists, which has affected India’s image as a safe tourist destination. Even though law and order is a state subject, will the Centre set guidelines to deal with the issue?
India has primarily three strengths or weaknesses when it comes to tourism in India - cleanliness, security and hospitality. We as a country have always been known for our hospitality. Whenever any incident of rape or sexual assault is reported, it immediately takes us back several years. Acting upon our concern we have also started a helpline for foreign tourists– 1363. We have also issued guidelines to help these tourists, which include suggestions like being careful not to travel in deserted areas in an auto-rickshaw or taxi. We have also advised them to note down the number of the vehicle they are travelling in to avoid any untoward incident. We also propose to focus a lot more on e-tourism. For example if a tourist lands in India, we plan to help them out with a guide right from their arrival at the airport when their journey begins. They can also have the option of planning out their complete itinerary in India, while sitting in their country. We are all working on prime minister’s initiative to clean our country through the Swachata Abhiyan. But one of our crucial and significant priorities is also ensuring the safety of each tourist, who visits India.
When we talk about the cleanliness drive, there are various tourist destinations which remain ignored like Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan, Benares and others. Do you have plans to expand the drive and implement it across all tourist destinations on a national level?
For this, we have identified 25 monuments in popular tourist destinations. We have taken into account that these are the most visited destinations. In the first phase we have taken in these 25 monuments to be maintained under this pilot project. Also we have started e-ticketing for the first time, so that people do not have to wait in queue to reach the counter. They can book this from the hotel they are staying in or even purchase tickets, while planning their travel itinerary in their country.
What are the new initiatives you plan to include and implement in the Ministry of Culture?
The Ministry of Culture has always been our strength. I think our vision is to preserve and propagate our culture. As I said, we want to take it to all corners of the world. I think our biggest strength is that through cultural propagation, we directly and indirectly get employment for the youth. We get our foreign revenue from tourism. The Ministry of Culture, however, is one of our most valuable assets.
Are there any plans to privatise Air India in the future?
At present, there are no such plans. We are working very hard to revive Air India but at the same time as a ministry we are not only working for them but for the entire civil aviation industry.
There have been a lot of global concerns about the standard of safety and security set by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). What do you have to say on the issue?
When it comes to airline industry in India, the most important issue is safety and security. There has to be no compromise on this issue in anyway, be it DGCA or Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). We finalise all our decisions, after acquiring clearances from these two agencies.