Tea tourism put to sleep

Siliguri, Oct. 30: Five years have passed since the government proposed tea tourism as an alternative means of income for the brew sector, but not a single project has been sanctioned till date.

“We had sent four proposals to upgrade existing infrastructure in the gardens — for example renovation of bungalows — to start tourism, but none of them were considered,” said Prabir Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Dooars branch of the Indian Tea Association.

“The delay comes at a time when inflow of tourists is increasing in the Dooars and private resorts are mushrooming at locations like Lataguri and Jayanti.”

In 2003, when the tea industry was facing a slump, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had announced the government’s tea tourism policy at Central Dooars Club in Binnaguri.

He had then said the planters could go in for tourism projects by using available resources like employees and bungalows.

Bhattacharjee had also announced that the government would upgrade the roads leading to the tea estates — many of them located in idyllic locations.

“But the objection raised by the state land and land reforms department for using land, which had been leased to tea gardens, for other (tourism) purposes created the hurdle,” Bhattacharjee said. “We were told to earmark land necessary to create the infrastructure for tourism projects in the garden, surrender it to the department and obtain a fresh lease on it.”

With the Dooars emerging as a potential tourist destination, several tea companies are interested in launching tourism projects.

“It is time the government cleared the proposals which will not only be beneficial to us, but also for other sectors like transport, which will be indirectly associated with the projects. The government, too, will earn revenue if the tourism projects are implemented,” a planter said.

The planters also highlighted the deplorable road condition as another major impediment to the growth of tourism. “Given the pathetic state of the roads, we doubt whether any tourist will recommend the area to others,” said N.K. Basu, the principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

The problems, the planters said, have been brought to the notice of Subrata Gupta, the managing director of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, during his visit here this week.

“We will take up these problems with the tourism department at an appropriate platform,” Gupta said.

Manohar Tirkey, the minister of state for public works, however, said more funds had been sought from the Centre to repair NH31 that passed through the Dooars. “Work is expected to start soon.”