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If tourism is one of the visible spin-offs, let proven experts handle the town’s civic maintenance.

Some local municipalities do work hard on sanitation but the usual narrative is that the littering habit is inherent in the common people. However, there is no reason to be smug and not step up to hold our own bull by its horns. It is time to pick and select one example and work on it.

It’s easy to blame the teeming public for littering. Despite almost a decade of Swachh Bharat initiatives, what meets the eye leaves much to be desired. Special occasions and VIP visits do make a difference to the worst kept tourist destinations but post that brief interval, it is business as usual.

The recent consecration of the Ayodhya temple has catapulted the town as a potential city that will define the expertise of modern India to salvage infrastructure, civic systems and tourism management. It will serve as a beacon for similar civic development in Tier-2 and even tier 3 destinations. There has been a colossal change in Ayodhya’s infrastructure and facilities recently but the development is wide open.

The nation and a significant part of the world is now quite aware of it and a stream of international media and visitors will soon be making a beeline. This can be a good test case how spiritual tourism can be brought centre stage.

It can also become a showpiece of how Indian authorities and tourism departments can up their act, especially if it’s beyond the pale of the glitzy crowds that sashayed past on their 100 private jets on the 22nd last month in that dusty old town of Uttar Pradesh. Herein is the significance of the heading of this column. The same common people and the same official set up of the same kind if people can make a difference.

The municipal corporation of Indore in Madhya Pradesh has surprised the country by being adjudged India’s cleanest city for almost seven years in a row.

The heading might sound provocative but it’s a call to put an end to passing the blame of poor sanitation, maintenance and even street discipline to the people, especially those from the poorer sections of society. Indore did it. Why can’t every other city?

For years tourism conclaves and associations mouthed the importance of spiritual or religious tourism as a big revenue generator. Last month Ayodhya emphasised it with a bang.

The evidence of its potential is now spilling all over the place. Estimates deduce an Rs 20,000 crore revenue from visitors in the first financial year itself. Last time I visited the temple town I had to contend with mosquitoes in the best accommodations I could find in a small street that was supposedly the main market centre. Today, the scene is quite the opposite.

There are many more destinations that could offer a similar tourism prospect. State governments are waking up to it. Witness the effort at Puri in Odisha to build better environs at Jagannath temple complex. However not much is heard about any consolidated attempt to upgrade the entire city’s civic infrastructure beyond that.

Coming to Ayodhya, the state government plans to make it the cleanest city in the state. The first step in line with this objective was an additional 1,500 Safai Mitras (sanitation workers) on the streets to achieve cleanliness. Next in line is a 100% implementation of zero waste levels by June. That does sound laudable but needs to be monitored.

On the 23rd January I watched nervously when dedicated crowds thronged from 3 am on that cold wintry pre-dawn to enter the temple. Six hours later when it opened, the fancy equipment and systems didn’t quite seem to be working. Thankfully quick reaction from authorities streamlined the scene in a few hours. The question is, why wasn’t this anticipated?

The sage discussions on benefits of religious tourism often raised in seminars and interactions with tourism departments need to be implemented with an urgency that is immediate and nationwide.
The economics of that temple town and the entire district has undergone a tectonic shift with a financial windfall for almost every small business, hotelier, innkeeper, guide, taxi driver and dhaba owner. Many mega hotel chains are scurrying to look for properties to create a presence.

There is a need, more than ever, to keenly observe the Municipal Corporation of Ayodhya and compare it with Indore rather strictly. Any takers for spiritual tourism?


Anurag Yadav is a travel author and columnist, writing on hospitality and design. An avid traveller, he has published five books and divides his time equally between Delhi and London. The views expressed in the coulumn are personal.

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