By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 10 Jun: Uttarakhand claims to be a tourist state. It aspires to be a top tourist-centric state in the near future. It does receive a high number of tourists to places such as Mussoorie, Nainital, Rishikesh, Dehradun and places such as Chopta, etc., every year. It is a fact that during the summer holiday months of May and June the inflow of tourists is at its peak and, sometimes, goes much beyond the carrying capacity of hill towns like Mussoorie and Nainital. Similarly, places such as Haridwar, Rishikesh, Char Dham shrines (Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri), too, witness a heavy rush of pilgrims in these two months of the year. Yet, all this is not unexpected. Every year, the number of tourists and pilgrims to various places of the state is only swelling. Construction of roads on the Char Dham route and of Haridwar-Dehradun Road, Delhi-Dehradun roads is only adding to the traffic woes. Yet, the government, the state administration and the district administrations seem to be oblivious to the problems faced by the tourists and pilgrims each summer. This is reflected in the fact that there is severe shortage of essential items in the places frequented by the tourists and pilgrims. Even petrol, diesel and LPG are in severe short supply in the hills leaving vehicles stranded at many places and adding to the chaos and traffic jams. Earlier, the state administration headed by the chief secretaries used to hold meetings before the onset of the tourist season and issue directions to the district administrations concerned to be prepared. Food, medicines, petrol and diesel stocks were maintained. However, during the past few years, this practice became merely ritualistic in nature, even as the number of pilgrims and tourists is rising every year. Mussoorie and Nainital are so jam packed at the moment that traffic on the Dehradun- Mussoorie road and on the Haldwani-Nainital road often moves at a snail’s pace and those managing to overcome the traffic snarls and finally reaching Mussoorie or Nainital are struggling to find hotel accommodation. On Saturday and Sunday, a large number of tourists were forced to sleep outdoors because the hotels were packed. Adding to their woes was the fact that many of them were fleeced by the taxi operators, dhabas and restaurants and even home stay owners. Reports coming from the Char Dham Yatra routes also mention fleecing of pilgrims by the dhaba and restaurant owners, as also taxi and chopper service operators. In fact, those who had already booked their chopper tickets to Kedarnath in particular through online mode were being made to wait longer than those willing to pay a higher price in cash on the spot. This, too, when the chopper prices are fixed for every season and under the rules, pilgrims can’t be asked to pay more. According to some reports, bottled water was being sold for Rs 40 per bottle instead of the normal price of Rs 15 to Rs 20 per bottle. Interestingly, Uttarakhand boasts of being a tourist friendly state and in tune with the slogan of the tourism department of India, ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’. Eyewitnesses and local people from the tourism destinations claim that to manage the traffic influx, a much larger number of police officials including some very senior level of Police Officers ought to be deputed along the route and at tourist and pilgrimage destinations during the peak Yatra season than has been done so far. They also claim that a very senior level IAS officer not less than a Divisional Commissioner ought to be deputed to oversee the Yatra and tourism management in the state. In fact, there has to be a system in place to restrict private tourist vehicles going to Mussoorie and Nainital and instead encourage the tourists to choose public transport to go there. However, for that, proper arrangement of quality public transport vehicles is required as parking for private vehicles in Dehradun and Haldwani would be required. At present, there is not enough parking in Dehradun or Haldwani even for locally registered vehicles. Similarly, innovative solutions have to be worked out for Char Dham routes as well. However, are the government, the state administration or the district administrations concerned, willing to even consider out of the box solutions to the problems that will only grow every year? Doesn’t seem so!