INTERVIEW

K.J. Alphons

K.J. Alphons, Union Tourism Minister

You don’t come to see India you come to India to get transformed, says Union Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons in an interaction with Amit Goenka

  1. Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre has completed four-and-half years in the office. Do you think it has been a transformational led government. Has it led the country to the right path of development as the PM wanted?

 ANS. They have been the most dramatic years in the history of India as in the past four-and-half years the Modi government has done more to the poor people of India than what was done in past 65 years. The government built 75 million toilets in four-and-half years, 45 million LPG gas connections have been given to poor people, 300 million new bank accounts have been opened for poor people who have never seen the bank. Money is getting directly transferred to their accounts and to the tune of Rs 2.75 lakh crore have been transferred with Rs 80,000 crore saving to the government exchequer. Electricity connection has reached to every village now the government is trying to provide electricity to all the below poverty line households for free and around 14 lakh houses have already been given. The government plans to build houses for everyone by 2022 and around 10 million houses will be handed over this year.

Now the health scheme, you spend Rs 12 to get insured for accident of Rs 2 lakh, you spend Rs 300 to get life insurance of Rs 3 lakh annually. You don’t have to spend anything to get medical insurance for five people absolutely free. This is for all the people under the below poverty line. This government worked for poor people mostly SC, ST and minorities and broaden industry. Now come to Make In India by which we got large number of industrialist to invest in. For example, four years back there were just two mobile phone manufacturer in India, today we have 120 with Samsung plant being the biggest in the world. In IT industry, we have 400 million people. Coming to tourism, in the past four-and-half-years tourism ministry has created 14.16 million jobs. We contribute 6.88 per cent to the GDP of the country and 12.36 per cent in the employment, so there has been a dramatic difference.

2. Soon after taking over as Union Tourism Minister, you created a stir by saying that there must be a code of conduct for foreign tourists. Would you elaborate on this?

I have never said that there should be a code of conduct. It is you people who are saying so. I said that when a tourist goes anywhere s/he should respect culture and tradition of that country. When we go to foreign country, we too follow tradition and culture of that country. So anyone coming to India should also do the same.

3. You said that foreign tourists must behave in a particular manner!

I never said that. What do you mean by behave? You have to behave every moment. It applies to every tourist while visiting any country.

4.Handing over of the maintenance of Red Fort to a corporate entity generated lots of controversy. Could you please justify the government action?

It is very simple, the government has been looking after ASI monuments for the past 70 years. We have over 6,500 protected monuments in the country. The government has found that there is no basic infrastructure in these monuments including drinking water, toilets, parking, cafeteria and many other basic facilities. We want to tell people that monuments belong to you not to any babu of the ASI. So get involved in it. This is the reason that we are bringing in corporate sector, NGOs, schools, colleges, institutes and many other people in it. Two schools and Association of Tourist Operators have adopted monuments so it is open to everyone with a message that monuments belong to you, come forward to adopt them.

5. Is it something based on PPT model or some other way to do it?

I am not going to use any such thing, it just wants to involve citizens to say that these monuments are yours so protect them. Whatever monument that we have in India is the wealth of the nation. This is a 5,000-year-old civilization and we want citizens to be involved.

6. This is exactly what the democracy is all about!

Exactly this is what the democracy is. I just want to say that this country belongs to you not just to any babu of the dusty office somewhere in the corner.

7. We have heard that Taj Mahal is next in the line for adoption!

I think Taj Mahal will have to wait for some more time. Elections are not far away, so we will wait for Taj Mahal thing to happen.

8. Some news were doing rounds that Taj Mahal will be removed from the list of wonders of the world if immediate action has not been taken for its adoption to conserve it?

The Supreme Court said that either you preserve it well or demolish it, they are very clear on it. There is massive problem of leather industries around Taj Mahal. There is pollution in the air, in the river and everywhere. There is dust, dirt and pollution around Taj Mahal. Dramatic action needs to be taken on Taj Mahal. I have written a letter to Prime Minister and he should possibly chair a meeting on protection of Taj Mahal for some kind of discriminative action. I was not surprised what the Supreme Court observed about the Taj Mahal which is really a jewel in the crown and we have whole lots of other things, we have Khajuraho, Ellora, we have Ajanta and Hampi, Rajgarh forts and Sarnath so much that needs to be preserved. I don’t think that the ASI has that kind of money, expertise and manpower to look after 6,500 monuments of the country.

9. Taj Mahal will have to take one more year?

I don’t know because the Supreme Court is directing and the UP government is taking care of the project. They said that they will be spending Rs 400 crore on Taj Mahal. But if you throw rubbish, if you throw dust and pollute environment, things will remain the same.

10. You criticized travel advisory issued by foreign bodies for being biased and anti-India. Could you please explain?

Whenever a small incidence happens in India and even isolated ones which is very unfortunate they put out news reports and three-page article in every newspaper and television channel around the world which is similarly unfortunate like some reports say that India is the most unsafe place for women to visit. I think they are hugely biased against India. I don’t know of which planet’s women they are talking about.

11. Do you plan any action against them?

What can I do? Actually Indian media should take up the matter that this is not right. It affects tourism industry very badly because these advisories are taken very seriously there. On the contrary shootouts are taking place every now and then in America, does the US media write that country is not a safe place to live in. Indian media doesn’t write any such thing. Shootout took place in Paris theatre, do they write that France is not safe, don’t come here. I am no body to advice but Indian media should be cooperative on such issues. We all need to work together.

12. You have also been critical to international institutions like Agha Khan Trust for carrying out restoration work of Humayun Tomb?

No. I am happy the kind of work they are doing. My only objection was that when this whole lot of thing happening about maintenance of heritage monument being given to an industrial house, no one raised objection about an international organization given the work of restoration of a monument. These industrial houses will not do restoration work like Agha Khan Trust which did restoration work of one of the important monuments in India. We don’t even trust an Indian organization which will just be providing infrastructure

13. As a former civil servant, what thought do you have to utilize CSR funds of PSUs for the use under your ministry?It is a very nice idea to use CSR funds of PSUs. Many PSUs are coming forward as IOC has set aside funds for creating infrastructure around Khajuraho. More PSUs should come forward. Many more from public sector and corporate sector should get involved in such acts.

14. A study says that CSR spent in conservation fell in 2017. Do you envisage any change?

I think more PSUs must forward in this area.

15. With the considerable number of growth of tourists in the past five years and the number of tourists growing in 2018, do you think the government schemes are working?

The year 2017 has been extremely good. The number has increased by 14 per cent and income by 19.1 per cent. It was a good year for us—our objective was to double these figures in three years. Last year, we had $27 billion from foreign tourist arrival and we want $50 billion in three years and $100 billion in the next five years.

16. Dalmia Group has adopted Red Fort. Do you think it will increase safety, hospitality and comfort of tourists?

Toilets, cafeteria and other such things that they are going to take care.

17. Indian intangible cultural heritage is equally rich so how we adopt a heritage scheme that would boost ICH for socio-cultural development of the country?

India has philosophy that entire world is a global village and entire human being or the universe is one. We have a latest punchline ‘You don’t come to see India you come to India to get transformed’.