Continuous bandh in Darjeeling has brought a major setback in West Bengal government’s tourism plan while the already ailing tea industry has been re-hit by the possibilities of exports looking bleak this year. West Bengal tourism minister Gautam Deb told FE that the government planned a host of projects involving private partners to develop tourist products in the hills. Post 2011 tourist arrivals in Darjeeling, increased more than five folds and the government was scouting for new locations in the hills to accommodate the bulging crowd. New spots like Lamahata or Sandakphu at the foot hills of the Kanchenjunga, have been developed as new tourist destinations away from Darjeeling town. Dalgaon, Bijonbari and Rimbik have been identified as new possible tourirst destinations. The work of creating a Dooars mega circuit project at a cost of Rs 46 crore was in progress. A new ropeway project and luxury but tax free home stay projects in the tea gardens were under way. Starting a chopper service was in consideration, for which the state was considering lowering tax for aviation turbine fuel. But all these have been hurt due to the agitation of the Gorkha jan Mukti Morcha, demanding Darjeeling as a separate Gorkhaland state, Deb said.
While the state government handed over 24 acres to the airport authority of India to expand the airport and facilitate tourism with night landing facilities, the airport authorities are at present skeptical whether there will be enough growth in traffic in future to fit an augmented infrastructure. The state government has also planned a convention centre and an up market resort at Bagdogra envisioning growth in tourist arrival but the future of the projects depend much on the law and order situation of the hills, Deb said.
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According to Durga Kharel, a GTA member, Darjeeling for long has been a victim of political unrest and the next spurt of agitation by Bimal Gurung after GNLF’s Subash Ghising has left investors in a quandary whether Darjeeling can at all be considered as an investment destination even in the long run. Ambuja Realty’s initiative to develop three luxury hotels at Kurseong, Gorumara and Siliguri at an investment of Rs 450 crore has now become uncertain. The ITC group under its Welcome Heritage brand was looking to enter into agreements for managing properties in Darjeeling which for the present has been stalled. “It is now doubtful whether such investors would at all look for properties in North Bengal and Darjeeling”, Kharel said adding there were plans to develop vineyards in Darjeeling considering the weather condition, which resembles France. But everything has come to a standstill.
Even the tea industry has estimated a loss of around Rs 250 crore with exports halted for the second flush of tea leaves. All the 87 tea gardens are closed and workers are in great distress without any pay, Sandeep Mukherjee advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association said.
Developing a Pineapple development center at Phansidewa in Darjeelig has also become uncertain in the wake of bandhs and agitation led by Gurung in Darjeeling, a GTA member unwilling to disclose his name, said.