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Mess in top echelons in tourism department needs cleaning up

All does not appear to be well in the functioning of the state tourism department. Following reports of alleged acts of nepotism and favouritism in the top echelons of the department has come the revelation that the bosses of the department have messed up with the centrally sponsored Swadesh Darshan Scheme. The Centre had sanctioned about Rs 200 crore under the scheme for implementation of various projects of Goa Coastal Circuit I and II. While the first phase was sanctioned on June 1, 2016, the approval for the second phase was given on June 20, 2017. The state has, however, failed to complete the first phase within the stipulated time of 36 months from the time of sanction and may have to return unutilized funds to Centre. While the timeframe for completion of the phase I is over, less than 11 months are left for completion of phase II and with the tourism department muddling the projects may be delayed beyond the stipulated time and not completed in time.  

The Union tourism ministry had sanctioned Rs 100 crore under phase I of the Swadesh Darshan Scheme for integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits in the country under which development of beaches at Calangute, Anjuna, Junaswada and Mandrem was to be undertaken. Besides, other developmental works of Morjim Kund, parking at Ashwem beach, provision of public infrastructure, upgradation and improvement of Fort Aguada and helipad therein, development of Aguada jail as a tourist destination were to be taken up. In the second phase development of Rua de Ourem creek, Don Paula, Colva and Benaulim was to be undertaken. The tourism department was also supposed to set up permanent toilets, mobile toilets, bamboo gazebos, drinking water cabin with RO in the second phase. Provisions were also made in phase II for solid waste management with beach cleaning, high mast, solar lights, GIS mapping, rescue boats, water scooters, wi-fi and CCTV. None of these projects have been completed, though the state was quick in sending the proposals for sanction!

The Swadesh Darshan Scheme was conceived by the Centre with the idea of building tourism sector as a major engine for all-round development. It was also envisioned as a driving force for economic growth that would build synergy with various sectors to enable tourism to realise its potential. It was launched to develop world class infrastructure at tourist destinations and creation of employment through active involvement of local communities. Three years down the line it is found that nothing has been done in Goa to involve communities to be partners in tourism development and economic upliftment. Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar claimed in the Assembly on Wednesday that Rs 67.89 crore was received and utilised under phase I. However, details of the projects for which funds were utilized are not known. He admitted that the 3-year term for complete utilisation of the fund of Rs 100 crore has expired and that his department would not be able to undertake any more projects now. Surprisingly only Rs 19.87 crore from a sanctioned Rs 100 crore had been received and utilised under phase II so far.

One of the tell-tale examples of it was the purchase by the tourism department of mobile toilets worth Rs 8 crore which are lying idle as permission from agencies to install them is awaited. The toilets lying unused might be damaged by miscreants and rendered useless by the time the permissions are obtained. It is intriguing that even government proposals fail to get approvals from agencies concerned. Though beach cleaning is a part of approved projects, the state has not been able to maintain cleanliness on beaches despite funds being available. What prevented the bosses of the tourism department from using the funds for cleaning beaches? Are the proposals of the tourism department not according to the rules and norms, so their approvals are being put on hold? Or are approvals delayed with ulterior motives? As huge amounts of unutilized funds have to be returned for delay in completion of projects, the government should order a probe and fix responsibility for it. It is time to clean up the mess created by the bosses of the tourism department.

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