Maoist menace decimates tourism in Bengal`s Junglemahal

The Maoist menace has decimated the thriving tourism industry in West Bengal`s Junglemahal area spread across three districts, a popular weekend gateway for city-dwellers.

Kolkata: The Maoist menace has decimated the thriving tourism industry in West Bengal`s Junglemahal area spread across three districts, a popular weekend gateway
for city-dwellers here.

Several tourist attractions in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts, which till a couple of years back reported 100 percent occupancy in all hotels and resorts
during the peak season, now wear a deserted look round the year.

Admitting that the Maoist activities has affected tourism industry in the area, state Tourism Minister Manab Mukherjee said, "It is a political and law and order problem".

"It has negatively impacted the tourism industry in these districts and we can only hope that normalcy returns to the area so that tourist inflow increases once again," he told
a news agency here.

To offset these problems affecting the industry, state tourism secretary Raghavendra Singh said, "We are developing various packages to boost tourism in these districts and these will be announced by the end of this month".

"We are getting into the aspects of eco-tourism, village tourism and community participation," Singh said.

At Bishnupur, famous for its 17th and 18th century terracotta temples, a big tourism festival would be held soon and plans are afoot to hold such festivals at other places in
these three districts also.

Whether it is the forested areas of Jhargram, the picturesque Mukutmonipur on the confluence of rivers Kangshabati and Kumari or the Ayodhya Hills in Purulia,
tourists are afraid of visiting these places given the frequent violence and bandhs called by the Maoists as well as by the ruling CPI(M).

"Though there has never been a single attack on tourists or in areas near tourism attractions in Bankura, fear of unwanted trouble is keeping travellers away from these
places," said Lakshindra Kumar Sarkar, founder secretary of NGO Khatra Adivasi Culture and Development Centre.

But frequent bandhs and disruptions in these areas are keeping away the tourists and some of the hotels are on the verge of closure, he said.

"This is affecting the adivasi people, who are losing jobs as well as their handicrafts made from different items like bamboo and clay are finding no takers," Sarkar, whose NGO works among tribals around Mukutmonipur in Bankura, said.

The shops, which used to do thriving business till some time back, now wear a deserted look and the adivasi youths, finding no employment, are turning to gambling and
other evils, he said.

The burning down of some forest rest houses and bungalows, including the one at picturesque Kakrajhor in West Midnapore and one at Duarsini in Purulia, has only added to the fear psychosis of tourists.

A hotel owner at Jhargram, which boasts of beautiful Sal forests and wildlife, said on condition of anonymity that the frequent killings, bandhs and blockades have brought down their business to almost nothing.

"Even if normalcy returns, it will take some time before the tourists` confidence is regained," a representative of Doulung Guest House in Jhargram said.

"Tourist arrival since November 2008 has come down to almost zero and we now depend on sales representatives of different companies and traders who come here for business,"
he said.

Hotel owners of Bankura discussed the problem at their annual general meeting at Mukutmanipur recently and wanted the state government to take initiative to inform tourists that these places are `safe`.

"Only the Junglemahal area in our district, which is restricted to a few blocks, is affected by the rebels," said PK Dutta, vice-president of Bankura Hotel and Lodge Owners`

The tourism secretary said he would soon discuss the issue with the hotel and lodge owners of these districts.

Since the attack on Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee`s convoy in November 2008, Maoist activity in these areas have increased and simultaneously tourist inflow
has decreased.

According to official estimates, around 2,000 people used to visit Mukutmanipur everyday during the winter peak season, but since the 2008 incident, this has decreased to
less than half.

Bishnupur used to be visited by around 5,000 people daily, but this has gone down drastically, according to travel operators.

Tourist cab owners in the towns of Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore are also finding the situation very desperate with their vehicles lying idle.


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