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  • Urinal outside a shrine... it's so embarrassing - An interview with K. Chiranjeevi, Tourism Minister. (Posted on 17/02/2013)

He's been in charge of the tourism ministry for just three months but actor-producer and first-time minister K Chiranjeevi has already faced tough questions. Left red-faced by global leaders telling him about the dirt in Bodh Gaya and film crews waiting too long for permissions, he tells Himanshi Dhawan how he plans to ensure tourists are treated better.

Tourists constantly complain about dirty monumemts and tourist spots. The ministry has a Clean India campaign that hasn't taken off. What can you do to improve?
Several leaders from south-east Asia, who are interested in the Buddhist circuit, have complained to me about the unhygienic conditions. Places like Bodh Gaya are sacred and they said they would like to keep the soil in their homes as a sign of reverence - except that people are using the area around the shrine as a urinal. I was so embarrassed. As a government, we have failed to keep the country clean. We will execute the Clean India campaign more effectively. I am speaking to industrial houses, hospitality chains, NGOs, and others to encourage them to adopt a monument or a place of tourist interest and maintain it. I will be talking to chief ministers about this. We would like to start with Varanasi and Bodh Gaya and imporve the surroundings.

What about lack of infrastructure, affordable hotels and direct flights.
We are tackling all these issues. Spain and Japan have shown interest in investing in highway motels. Our ministry will help them work with state governments and the road ministry to get land along highways. We get constant demands for direct flights. Idon't think a profitable business plan is necessary for each country. Maybe we should start flights and they will turn profitable.

UK and China recently issued advisories disuading their citizens, especially women, from travelling to India as it is unsafe. Are you concerned by this?
The Delhi incident is unfortunate but the repercussion of one unfortunate incident should not affect our economy. The advisories by UK and China are unjustified. The incident is shameful and we condemn it, but our government has moved proactively and taken steps, speeding up the anti-rape ordinance. My ministry plans to take up this issue with both countries.

What are your plans for film tourism?
With the success of Life of Pi, we have announced a Land of Pi circuit covering places of tourist interest in Munnar and Puducherry where the film was shot. We introduced a circuit for Mani Manjra, the Punjab town were Zero Dark Thirty was shot. But we have treated filmmakers so shabbily. I heard that Brad Pitt had to wait in the police station when he came as producer for A Mighty Heart. My director and producer were detainedover shooting Thief of Baghdad at Ajanta Caves. The world is rolling out the red carpet for filmmakers while we treat them shabbily. We don't value the publicity that a film gives us. We want to give filmmakers the comfort a creative person needs. We have asked state governments to set up a single window clearance system headed by a senior official, so that filmmakers do ont have to run around to get permissions.

It is been a few months since you took over. What is your focus?
My immediate agenda is to improve foreign tourist arrivals. At the G-20 summit, foreign leaders said the tourism sector was the best way to generate employment and alleviate poverty. We need to recognize this too. The biggest challenge is to provide modern infrastructure for our unique rural experience.

Foreign tourist arrivals in India are only 0.6 per cent of the world's share.
Our target for 2016 is to reach 1 per cent of the world's share or 12 million tourists. We get over six million tourist arrivals and to double this number in five years is a big task. We are trying to promote rural tourism, MICE, golf and other sectors. In the next few months, we will have a toll-free helpline in India and abroad to provide information in six languages including Freanch, Mandarin, and Japanese. Our website will be interactive. People are shifting online for information and we must keep pace with social media.

What are your expectations from the budget?
We have received an additional Rs.500 crore this year, taking our budget to Rs.1773 crore. This comes at a time when ministries are facing budget cuts. I recognize the responsibility we have and we will try and fulfill it. Courtesy Sunday Times Of India

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