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Disaster – hit locals struggle to rebuild lives in Uttarakhand

The largest employment
provider tourism sector in Uttarakhand has been hit to the extent of 85 percent
in post-flood disaster. The wreckage caused by the floods and landslides has
hurt the Uttarakhand tourism industry in every way possible. While the char
dham may take years to recover, even places like Mussoorie and Nainital that
were not affected by the disaster are seeing steep decline of 75 percent in tourists.

The largest employment
provider tourism sector in Uttarakhand has been hit to the extent of 85 percent
in post-flood disaster. The wreckage caused by the floods and landslides has
hurt the Uttarakhand tourism industry in every way possible. While the char
dham may take years to recover, even places like Mussoorie and Nainital that
were not affected by the disaster are seeing steep decline of 75 percent in tourists.
People are cancelling their trips and the industry is witnessing heavy
slowdown. In a word, the damage is enormous.

Every year, 23 to 24 lakh
pilgrims arrive in the state for the Char Dham Yatra – Badrinath, Kedarnath,
Gangotri and Yamunotri. The disaster has hit tourism badly. The irresponsible
media reportage has caused a sharp and sudden decline to the tourist flow in
the city. Mussoorie is absolutely empty. In Dehradun, the occupancy has gone
down by 80 percent.

People are not visiting the
state out of fear and it’s not just about the pilgrim’s tourist. When a
calamity of this scale happens, the tourism, at large, gets affected. So, when
there are no guests to welcome in the hotel, there is also no one in the
markets to purchase, eat or hire.

The tourism industry is one
of the largest employers in the region. It hires locals as translators, guides,
naturalists, drivers and porters. The tourist economy supports local artisans
and makers of traditional handicrafts, opens up jobs as caterers and cooks
through the hospitality sector, and enables families to establish small
businesses such as tea stalls, souvenir shops or grocery stores.

But now almost a thousand
hotels are in trouble.  The biggest
dilemma is retaining a staff in such a dire situation, since there is an
immediate need to cut down on the costs. The cost of damages has severely
occurred to housing properties, crops, livestock, tourism- the prime livelihood
in the affected area, destruction of transport and communication systems and
breakdown of public and rural extension services.

Around 300 people have been
rendered jobless, in Mussoorie alone. Most of the hotels here are small and the
owner lives in the property itself. The big hotels can still afford the loss,
but it is the small properties that have had the most severe blow. Some hotels
in worse-hit areas like Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts have been
completely swept away in the deluge.

Governments support is the urgent
need at the present time. The hoteliers have sent the relief to the sufferers
in every way possible. However, to make the place economically viable, the
Government has to do something. A few years back the Government had imposed
entertainment tax. While in those days, there used to be functions like May Queen,
Summer Queen, and performance by singers and other stars, now such activities
have stopped happening in the hilly areas. To organize a function one has to
pay 30 percent entertainment tax. 13.5 percent VAT and 10 percent service tax.
Even if you have a television in the room, they are charging Rs. 40 per month
per television.

The service tax and
entertainment tax should be removed and even the luxury tax should be reduced
to save the expenses in the present state of affairs as the reconstruction would
need a lot of planning and time.

Rock blasting in the hilly
areas should be done in the more sensible ways. Also, there should be some
positive news by the media, announcing the precise destinations in the state
that have been affected by the floods so that the people can be made aware.

Tourists are still at
advantage since the tariffs in hotels and all other segments of the tourism
industry have been removed considerably. The budget would suit them like never
before. They can now spend less and enjoy more.

 

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