Ajay Bhatt, the Minister of State for Tourism and Defence has worn many hats during his professional life and has been at the forefront of Uttarakhand politics. Indeed, his career spanning more than four decades is dotted with several achievements. In a free-wheeling conversation with Anjali Bhatia he spoke about India’s tourism potential and the much-debated Agnipath scheme.
You have completed one year as the MoS for Tourism and Defence. How do you see your tenure, and the tourism potential in the country?
Tourism has a huge potential in the country. The tourism industry suffered a momentary setback due to the Corona pandemic, but now things are coming back on track. Be it Uttarakhand or Northeast, you would find a lot of tourists everywhere. And we have endeavored to ensure that the tourists get the best facilities and infrastructure while they tour the country. Whenever we get a request regarding facilities, etc. from a concerned department, we ensure it is disposed of at the earliest. The police personnel are also sensitised to deal with the tourists, and the safety for women is doubly ensured.
What are your priorities?
As you know in the past there have been several incidents where human lives were lost including those of the pilgrims due to terrorist attacks. There have been several incidents of terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims as well. It has been our priority to provide a safe environment for tourism so that people can freely travel anywhere in the country. We have worked diligently towards this end. It has been a concerted effort of all government departments and army and police to ensure the safety of the travelers. The Opposition said the rivers of blood will flow in Kashmir, but nothing of the sort happened and today there is a tourist rush in the state. You can see the rivers of development flowing in Kashmir
How do you see the prospects of religious tourism in your home state Uttarakhand as it is often referred to as Dev Bhoomi?
Several places in Uttarakhand can be developed as tourist destinations. For instance, there is Tirujinarayan where Lord Shiva married Ma Parvati, a flame is always lit and people come here for the wedding of their children. Similarly, if you read the popular book ‘An autobiography of a Yogi’, the cave which is where Mohan Das baba gave ‘dikhsa’ to Gandhiji is in Uttarakhand. A lot of people throng the site every year. All we have to do is to popularise it and build sustainable infrastructure for tourism. There are many more miraculous sites like Patal Bhuvneshwar in Uttarakhand which can be popularised apart from the chaar dhaams (four pilgrim centres for Hindus). And of course, you have nature at its best in the state to lure the tourists.
What are other categories of tourism you are developing – like there was a talk of starting border tourism? What has been the progress on that front?
Indeed, we are trying to develop other types of tourism as today’s tourists want a wide variety and we have to cater to that. Not only border tourism, we are also working on promoting water tourism, village tourism, and so on. We have also started jungle tourism in which the tourists can stay in the jungle atop tree houses and get a feel of the jungle. The work is going on at a very fast pace and very soon you will see these turning into reality.
Is something being done about the basic infrastructure of Uttarakhand?
There has been a phenomenal change in the infrastructure. Earlier, when it was newly founded there were issues, but most of those bottlenecks have been resolved. Be it roads, broadband connectivity, electricity, or transportation, everything has grown quite substantially. Now, one would be able to reach Karnprayag by train which is again a huge upgrade in infrastructure.
A lot of young people in Uttarakhand opt for careers in the armed forces. Now, a new recruitment scheme, Agnivpath, has been introduced. How is the response to that, and what is your take on it?
Agniveer is indeed a great scheme. It will make the army younger while being beneficial to the young people. The response is great as over seven lakh people have applied for 3,000 jobs. The people who would leave would get a lump sum amount and also a certificate and the provisions have been made for their jobs. The 25 per cent who would stay with the army would be the best. So, how does that harm the Army’s strength? All rules are the same for everyone and women’s participation has improved already. The Opposition should study the scheme carefully before discrediting it.
You are the chief of the Uttarakhand BJP unit. The BJP has been fragmented in the state. How do you see it, and what are you going to do to reconcile it?
No, it is not a divided house. Your information is not correct. We’re all working together for the betterment of the party and the people of Uttarakhand.