A policy document provides insights into the political and philosophical underpinnings of the government. Tourism and its development in India are affected by various government policies at both the central and state level. While policies such as the National Tourism Policy may affect the growth and practice of tourism at one level, local communities and the informal sector (which make up the bulk of the tourism industry) are just as affected by policies declared by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) or the Street Vendors Act, 2014.
Tourism policies focus on the growth and promotion of tourism and hardly acknowledge the negative fallouts of tourism development. What needs a perspective change is the excessive tourist focus without consideration of the impacts on local communities. Private corporations have been actively lobbying the government for a larger role in the planning, implementation and evaluation of tourism activities. The government has consulted with private sector players and invited their representatives on planning boards and policy initiatives. We’ve seen a major thrust toward formalising this relationship and legitimising it through the prevalence of Public-Private Partnerships or PPP, which now feature in most tourism policies. Policies seem to ignore the informal sector of the tourism industry that constitutes a significant part of the industry and economy, nor the people living in tourism destinations who are most affected by its development.
While it is a popular claim that tourism increases employment opportunities at a destination, there is no account of how it has impeded already existing occupations such as agriculture, fishing, handicrafts and other such traditional occupations, which are far more economically and environmentally sustainable. Therefore the opportunity costs of tourism have not been adequately calculated and taken into consideration while planning for tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism, as well as the Departments of Tourism, have a history of ignoring democratic processes and demonstrating a lack of transparency in the planning process. Vision plans are made without true public engagement, where announcements are made in tokenistic forms. Information is the first step to access power. Armed with information and data local communities would be able to contribute meaningfully to the planning process. The Right to Information Act (RTI) has and can be used to access information that has direct and indirect relevance to the expansion of tourism in our country. While its benefits are promoted, tourism also brings a host of problems like displacement of people, exploitation of natural resources, the encroachment of community properties and exploitation of labour. Many time tourism developments occur in violation of the basic tenets of democratic decision-making. Armed with the Right to Information Act (RTI) concerned communities, individuals, and organisations can question the government, at the panchayat, state and the central level on all the details of tourism projects planned or implemented in their area or district. Right to Information Act (RTI) has become a critical tool to demand transparency in decision-making and governance.
At EQUATIONS, we have undertaken various research studies over the years examining the implications of special tourism zones and studying proposed and existing legislation that impact planning and people's participation in planning and policy. We keep an active lookout for upcoming policies and changes that will impact the growth of tourism and the lives of local communities affected by tourism and advocate for more democratic and equitable policies that acknowledge not only the positive impacts of tourism but those that are deeply detrimental to peoples lives, livelihoods and cultures as well as the environment.
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