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Centre announces tourism package in poll-bound Meghalaya

IANS | Shillong |

With Assembly elections in Meghalaya likely to be announced this week, Union Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons on Sunday announced a tourism package of Rs 70 crore to develop religious and spiritual circuits in the state.

Denying that the announcement was aimed at wooing voters, especially the Christian community, he accused the Congress government of obstructing the Central government from implementing an inclusive project to bring about religious harmony in the state.

The ninth Meghalaya Assembly comprising 60 members was constituted on March 1, 2013 and its term expires on March 6.

“The government does not come to a standstill if elections are around the corner as it is a continuous process,” Alphons told journalists, adding that various components of projects were proposed by the state government along with the recommendation of the programme division of the Tourism Ministry.

The Ministry had sanctioned Rs 61.38 crore for illumination, landscaping, construction of parking lots and toilets amongst other infrastructure in 37 churches.

Another Rs 8.61 crore will be given out for similar projects for 11 other religious groups including temples, mosques and important sites of the indigenous believers of the Khasi Jaintia and Garo.

Prominent places of worship selected include Catholic’s Cathedral church at Laitumkhrah, Jaiaw Presbyterian Church here, Balupada Baptist convention centre, Laban glass mosque and Gurudwara Sahib, Nartiang Durga temple and Nartiang monoliths.

Expressing surprise at the government refusing to send its officers to a meeting held in New Delhi on Friday to discuss how to create infrastructure for religious tourism, Alphons said: “We have no answers why the state government is against this project?

“Perhaps the Chief Minister has instructed the officers not to turn up. Is it that they do not want the project because they may not be able to swallow the money since a Central agency would do the project?

“Such is the mindset of the Congress government in Meghalaya. However, we are going ahead with the project and we have already sanctioned it. We cannot wait for Chief Minister Mukul Sangma,” the Bharatiya Janata Party leader said.

Stressing that the Central government wanted to develop religious tourism by creating infrastructure at different places of worship, Alphons said about 1.6 billion trips have been made to various religious places within the country by Indians in 2017.

Asked if the tourism package could change the hearts of the Christian community as the BJP had as been labelled “anti-minority”, Alphons denied this.

“Before 2014 it was said that churches would be burnt once the BJP comes to power, but there has not been a single incident in the last three years,” he said.