West Bengal planning PPP boost for tourism sector

Kolkata: In a policy shift, the West Bengal government has decided to build mega tourism projects by involving the private sector under the Public-Private Partnership model.

The state government has identified a number of sites for creating infrastructure with the help of private companies, which will not only help develop tourism but also boost the overall economy of the area, said West Bengal tourism minister Bratya Basu.

Employment generation in the targeted areas is also one of the motives for the government in going in for such projects, Basu said.

"We are no longer interested in developing tourism projects by spending from state government coffers alone. The state government is keen on investing in building critical infrastructure in all the identified sites," Basu said.

He said the state government would deal with the basic infrastructure like roads, electricity, drinking water, etc. in the targeted areas to attract investment by private players for the construction of hotels, restaurants and other facilities on a PPP model.

Instead of viability gap funding (VGF), which is practised in many states, the West Bengal government will be investing on creation of "critical infrastructure" to lure private investors, he added.

Among some of the areas to be developed as tourism hubs on a priority basis are Gajoldoba, Jharkhali and the Western banks of the Hooghly.

The objective is to showcase the state in its entirety rather than with a focus on pockets like the Sunderbans, Darjeeling and Santiniketan.

With this end in view, the state government has identified over 200 acres of land at Gajoldoba in Jaipalguri, which is the gateway to the Dooars, to build a mega-tourism project, says Basu.

Over Rs 100 crore is lined up for investment in phases out of the state plan fund for infrastructure development on roads, power, drainage and water supply, he added.

The tourism department will itself be spending Rs 7 crore to set up tourist cottages and Rs 2 crore for building a youth hostel.

"Private companies will be invited to invest in setting up resorts and budget hotels and a hotel management institute at Gajoldoba soon," Basu said.

At Jharkhali in the South 24-Parganas district, work has started on an eco-tourism project spanning an area of nearly 100 acres. The state government has already spent around Rs 100 crore on building roads, power and drinking water facilities there.

"Infrastructural work has started and a tender for setting up budget and star category hotels has been finalised with a Letter Of Intent also having been issued. The foundation stone has been laid," Basu said.

He said that the government was also working on a master plan for the conservation of the colonial heritage on the western bank of the Hooghly river.

Over 100 heritage buildings have been identified for restoration by the government. The National Museum of Denmark has expressed interest in the conservation of a few of these structures.

Since the project involves a lot of investment, Basu said the state government would take up the conservation work in a phased manner.

The government is also planning to convert a few of these heritage structures into heritage hotels with the help of private investors, he said.