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What ails Indian tourism?

Tourism along with railways has always been a key focus area of the new prime minister even before he became one and it is now time that these sectors are actually harnessed for the national good. Unfortunately tourism, an activity of the masses has always been looked upon with an elitist undertone and therefore the sector rarely got the attention and the priority it rightfully deserved despite its unmatched multiplier effect and capacity for generating employment.

There has always been an ongoing debate over whether tourism is a state or a federal subject and voices to bring it on the concurrent list were always getting raised. Yet the fact remains that merely being on a list is not a guarantor of growth or development and what really matters are intentions and also the efforts to convert them into reality. During my earlier roller coaster stint in the federal ministry of tourism I always wondered whether merely putting Agra, the home of the Tajmahal in order should not be the starting point for setting right the entire gamut of tourism in the nation. Yet it was never to be as we always aspired to do something big while failing in achieving the small.

Another issue that has always been on the top of my mind is whether the primary role of the tourism departments at the federal and state levels is tourism for the mandarins or tourism for the masses. For masses obviously it has to be, yet the tours beyond the confines of the shores have continued unabated, cutting across states and shades of governance. Our focus definitely needs to shift from beyond the shores to setting our own house in order and then zoom forward.

It is not merely about how many visitors we receive from beyond the shores. Tourism to my mind is more about enabling our countrymen to explore the richness of their own country, something that gets shrouded by the glimmer of what is regarded and worshipped as foreign stuff.

It is also of essence that the national perspective on tourism does not remain confined merely to figures both of foreign tourist arrivals and the home population moving within the country. Unfortunately the national mind-set is guided and also led by statistics, and therein lies the malaise. Even while remaining confined to statistics, the essential difference between the tourist, who is basically an explorer, and the traveller, who may be moving for many reasons needs to be appreciated, though both form part of the tourism statistics that are regularly being churned out and touted by those who matter in the matter of tourism in the country.

Another fallacy is related to international advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned is not the inability to showcase but the number of seats in the aircrafts plying between the homeland and the rest of the world. It is time to realize that advertising is not merely for increasing the numbers but also for improving the image perception and creating the desire to visit and it therefore has to be primarily driven by the Indian ethos, culture and achievements and not merely the numbers game.And it is also about infrastructure.

The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a dire necessity and merely releasing grants to the State Governments who permit only a trickle to reach the ground is not making the difference it actually should. The release of funds alone is an inadequate measure unless it results in an actual conversion and in its absence a pat on the back is not really in order. The emergence of a good monitoring and executing machinery is the desperate need of the hour.The India Tourism Development Corporation is indeed the sad story of Indian tourism. An inherently profitable commercial organization also entrusted with the national mandate of development of tourism has been brought to seed by inept leadership provided by high ranking bureaucrats. Is it not really unfortunate that along with Air India, ITDC is also now regarded as the national symbol of sloth, inefficiency and corruption? Both these commercial monoliths could have given a tremendous push to the cause of tourism as well as travel within the country, something they did till professionalism remained at the core of their operations. Yet both can turnaround provided………

It is beyond doubt that tourism as an activity almost always happens on its own, without prodding from the governments, and that it helps local economies to grow at a pace much higher than in other sectors. Its employment potential as well as impact on economy many times over the investment in the sector have already received adequate national hype and now it warrants real inputs not merely rhetoric from the governments.

It is now time that the handling of tourism moves beyond the established clichés and it actually starts driving local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought. It would indeed be futile to look at tourism without looking at all that the country stands for. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy will now perhaps be achieved after the merger of the two ministries.The role of the Government of India Tourist Offices, popularly known as GOITO’s that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need a much deeper understanding and appreciation.

Merely finding faults without suitably empowering them to function efficiently in a fast changing international scenario is causing more damage than good. Perhaps an injection of fundamentals of administration and management is the need of the hour. It is also necessary that the unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated should cease once and for all. Lack of cleanliness and hygiene is also a bane of the tourism sector in the nation. Perhaps it is an issue related to the mind-set that is prevalent, yet there is no alternative to maintaining in a state of utmost cleanliness both our tourist destinations as well as places of human habitat in general. The recent clean india campaign marked a good beginning, yet the effort has lost steam midway or so it appears.
And make it easy for the private sector to invest. That the number of hotel rooms in the organized sector is far lower than that in the city state of Singapore indeed says it all. A multi-pronged strategy focussed on cleanliness, private sector participation, infrastructure development, promotional advertising and tourist facilitation would make all the difference in proper positioning of the country as a tourist friendly nation in its own national interest, is indeed the need of the hour

Wise and Gutsy after hanging the boots!

Katju, a person of great eminence was on the backfoot in the Times Now debate yesterday. Despite performing a commendable job in highlighting the impropriety committed in granting extension to a tainted high court judge of the Chennai court, the other two panelists were successful in pulling him down over the issue of his remaining mum, both while he was in active assignment and also for the over two years that elapsed since he hung up his boots.

His defense that he could not have gone beyond a point in expressing his resentment over the grave impropriety being committed right under his nose by the supreme authorities of the land obviously does not cut much ice. That his hands were tied by the compulsions of being an active judge and therefore not able to resist the mischievous actions of those in power is an argument that we often hear, especially from the bureaucrats who on similar lines grow wise and gutsy after retirement.

Is this, the conventional approach of being silent partners in crime the right course of action I wonder? Is permitting without a whimper, gross cases of misconduct under the garb of remaining within the ambit of the conduct rules applicable to government servants, the ethical way of doing things?

The answer is NO, yet almost all of us with exceptions of the likes of Khemka, Khairnar or Kiran, all with first names starting with the letter K, find it the most convenient and justifiable action that despite the voice of conscience saying otherwise, we absolve ourselves with throughout our lives. Incidentally Katju also belongs to the same variety and that makes me reverent of the alphabet K.

Silent partners in crime with allegiance to powerful individuals and not to the government or the nation, is what almost all of us in the service of the government have emerged as. Rampant corruption and injustice therefore flourishes right under our noses and we tend to look elsewhere till at times we take a direct hit.

Is it not our duty to be truthful, honest and compassionate and at the same time put our foot down when someone else howsoever powerful he may be fleeces the nation by his misdemeanors. While our conscience that is an integral part of the almighty winces at all such acts, our intellect tempered by the everyday happenings of the society guides us otherwise in the garb of being practical for fear of retribution that may or may not come in the shape of a transfer or a spoiled confidential report. Is it not therefore a case of paying a very high price for avoiding a minor inconvenience?

This lack spine at crucial moments in our service career provides the wherewithal to powerful individuals to carry on with their acts of gross misconduct while at the same time remaining on the right side of the conduct rules framed for the servants of the government. This is the greatest irony of the so called service of the nation.

Any system or structure that regards an expose’ as a much bigger crime than the criminal deed itself would never be able to propel the nation to the league of developed countries. Any organization where the frank and free expression of its constituents is regarded as dissent worthy of grave retribution is bound to wither away with time. The functioning of organizations and states has to have its foundations on pillars of justice, justice that meets the voice of conscience not merely some rules and procedures written in books. Unless this realization dawns on the mandarins of the republic, we would forever remain occupied in a futile search for growth and development.
A World More Mathematical

Once Paul Dirac famously quipped “If there is a God, he’s a great mathematician” and it is in this fervor that during a recent distinguished gathering of scientists with pioneering contributions to mathematics and allied sciences I posed a few questions to elicit alternate view points on the issue of universality and essentiality of mathematics in our world.

It is indeed no wonder, that mathematical studies are universal in their applications and appeal, so much so that they have become an indispensable tool to more disciplines than ever before. In addition to enchanting the human mind, mathematical sciences form a basis for all logic, quantitative developments, reasoning and research. Broadly speaking much of the critical thinking and advancements from the origins of the universe to our own existence is attributable to an interface between mathematics and allied sciences as understood and realized by eminent mathematicians, statisticians, physicist, computer scientists, medical practitioners, engineers, management scientists and other professionals.

The emphasis on the role of mathematics as an interface in evolving interdisciplinary approaches to solve the toughest problems that humanity faces is now a fact of life. Critical developments have been possible only because of mathematics in evolution of basic and applied sciences involving disparate areas such as modeling and simulation in various areas of sciences & technology such as computer based applications, operations research, industrial mathematics, quantitative studies in economics and business management, recent developments in bio-mathematics, bio-physics and bio-statistics, in pharmaceutical sciences, flow sciences, geophysics and earthquake engineering, mathematical analysis and numerical solutions of differential equations.

But we have to be careful in our assumptions on the universality of mathematical approaches, lest we forget the wise crack made by Albert Einstein in “Sidelights on Relativity” when he commented, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality”. I am sure that in all humility the scientific community will keep this wisdom in mind as we understand the laws of nature and our own existence.

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