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‘Tourism to fuel Bengal’s economic growth’

‘Tourism to fuel Bengal’s economic growth’
A post-graduate in Bangla from Calcutta University, Bratya Basu, intellectual-turned-politician subscribing to the Trinamool Congress, is one of the youngest members of  Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet of ministers steering the government of West Bengal. The young minister, who made waves earlier as a theatre director-actor-intellectual is now re-defining the state’s tourism policy in an attempt to bolster the state’s economy and also, its public image.

Deemed to be close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee right from the days of her land movement, Basu contested from the Dum Dum constituency against CPM heavyweight Gautam Deb in 2011 and defeated him by a huge margin in the Assembly polls. Prior to his stint as Trinamool MLA and minister for education in Banerjee’s cabinet, Basu made a mark as an eminent theatre director and actor. Some of the plays written and directed by Bratya Basu are Ashaleen, Aranyadeb, Shahariyar and Chatushkon. Basu also directed films like Raasta and Teesta and also acted in the film, Kaalbela.
 
What’s your primary objective now?
 The priority of the new government is to boost tourism footfall in our state,  to explore untapped resources with tourism potential, to provide last mile connectivity to tourist destinations and develop infrastructure at the tourist spots, through the PPP model.  The new destinations are Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri, Jharkhali in South 24 Parganas, Jhargram Rajbari in Paschim Medinipur and Sabujdeep in Hooghly. We are promoting new home stay tourist destinations such as Takda, Tinchule Chimney, Sitong in Darjeeling district, Buxa, Joyanti, Murti in Dooars, home stay in Sunderbans, Mukutmonipur, Ranibandh, Susunia, Beharinath in Bankura, Joychandi, Telkupighat, Matha in Purulia, Motijhil in Murshidabad are some of the places worth mentioning. We are also providing better tourist amenities in our existing tourist destinations.

The natural beauty of the state is tremendous. We are planning to maintain this through sensitizing different stake-holders and promote it through publicity and aggressive marketing it in different tourism fairs held in different states and abroad.

West Bengal Tourism has been participating in major international events like WTM London, ITB Asia, ITB Berlin, and has attended many road shows organized by the Ministry of Tourism in Los Angeles, Seattle, Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia, Singapore and Bangkok. B2B meetings with travel and tour operators of our state are being held with their counterparts in those countries.
 
Your website mentions places like Darjeeling, Digha, Dooars, Kolkata and Sunderbans as prime tourist spots. Are there new tourist facilities coming up here? What are these?
We are creating tourist amenities in the Dooars mega tourism project.  We are providing public amenities in Sunderbans, Sajnekhali and Gadkhali areas.
 
How would you rate the state of tourism infrastructure in Bengal at the moment? How can  connectivity, govt tourist lodges and amenities available be bettered?

At this moment it can be said that the facilities are good. We are trying to make it even better. We are putting emphasis on last mile connectivity of the tourist spots, setting up tourist amenities centre and making a clean environment at the tourist spots.  We are also giving importance for improvement of our lodge infrastructure and other allied services. To begin with we have brought out a thorough change in utensils in our Santiniketan tourist lodge depending upon the local crafts.
 
Are you about to promote food and festival tourism or cultural tourism in Bengal in a big way? Bengal is a foodie’s delight, isn’t it?

Yes, we promote many such fairs round the year and throughout the state, like the  Bishnupur Mela, Park Street, Beach Festival, Kenduli Mela, Mati Utsav, Pous Mela and Basanta Utsav and many other district village festivals. As for promoting food festivals, the WBTDCL has recently organised Ilish Utsav in a big way on a river cruise to celebrate delicacies available in our state.
 
 The Hooghly has been compared to the Thames and Digha to Miami. How  soon are the beaches and waterfronts of Bengal going to be developed?

Development, beautification, illumination, and provision of tourist amenities are being taken up at Digha, Udaypur, Tajpur, Sankarpur and Bakkhali area. We have also taken up river front beautification work along the river Ganges’ Kolkata and Howrah banks for a total cost of Rs. 20 crore.
 
Are you looking at private players or foreign investment in tourism? If yes, then in which projects?

 Yes. Under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Mamata Banerjee the hon’ble chief minister of West Bengal, there has been a sea change in the tourism industry in West Bengal. Tourism has become a major engine in the economic growth of our state. Tourists coming to our state from India and abroad are now getting all sorts of services in our state. Our chief minister has insisted on infrastructure development for tourist facilitation in our state. There are already four such projects taken up for execution in PPP model, like Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri, Jharkhali in South 24 Parganas, Jhargram Rajbari in Paschim Medinipur and Sabujdeep in Hooghly.
 
You had a very active career in theatre and films. How do you plan to continue with it?

 I always put a balance between my theatre career and the portfolio. You may remember that I am here not from direct political milieu but from the cultural world. So, how can I forget my own identity? Theatre is my passion but politics is my duty under the guidance of Mamata Banerjee, the hon’ble chief minister.
 
Does your ministry have targets and deadlines? Can you mention a few of them?

We have specific deadlines on all of our flagship projects with specific deadline for completion at each stage of its execution. A few examples in this regard are Gajoldoba eco-tourism project, Jharkhali eco-tourism hub, Sabujdeep  eco-tourism project, Mukutmonipur, Beharinath, Susunia, Joychandi Pahar, Telkupighat eco-tourism projects in Bankura and Purulia, Jhargram eco-tourism project, home stay eco-tourism at Takda, Tinchuley, Chimney, Pokhiatar, Kodalbasti.
 
What are the other things that Kolkata needs to make it like London? What is the status of the giant ferris wheel for example?
 It is the dream of our chief minister Mamata Banerjee to make Kolkata look like London in the spirit of the term. We have taken up many projects for beautification of Kolkata city. These are beautification/illumination of Jama Masjid, St. Paul Cathedral, Dakshineswar Temple, Shahid Minar, Kolkata Police Museum, Presidency University, Calcutta University, Calcutta Medical College & Hospital, Albert Hall, beautification of College Square, landscaping and illumination along the Ganges, beautification of Mayo Road, Eden Gardens, Outramghat and  Beleghata Subhas Sarobar.
 
How can a booming tourism industry help improve the image of West Bengal further? What is your vision?
Under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Mamata Banerjee, there has been a sea change in the tourism industry in West Bengal. Tourism has become a major engine in the economic growth of our state.  Tourists coming to our state from India and abroad are now getting all sorts of services in our state. Our chief minister is putting emphasis on infrastructure development for tourists coming to our state. Given the geographical diversity of our state, from Darjeeling hills to Sunderbans mangroves, the natural beauty of Dooars, the heritage spots of Murshidabad and Malda, the beauty of Santiniketan and the beaches of Digha, Bengal could very well  be a unique tourist destination for the
country and abroad.
Nandini Guha

Nandini Guha

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