Odisha fails to cash in on Ridleys wonder

Odisha fails to cash in on Ridleys wonder

Odisha has the potential to emerge as one of the leading states in the country so far as development of tourism is concerned. However, it is yet to achieve much in the sector because of more than one reason. And prominent among them is the lethargic attitude and lack of interest among the government authorities.

There are a number of important scenic spots in the state—some of them veritable gifts of the nature—which can be developed into major tourists’ attractions if there is a proper push and help from the government side. For example, the state is lucky to house not one but as many as three major nesting grounds for endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. All of them are natural and not man made. One among them—inside the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in coastal Kendrapara district is considered to be the biggest in the world. This season more than three lakh turtles had congregated in Gahirmatha rookery to lay their eggs.

The two other turtle nesting grounds are located on the Rusikulya river mouth in southern Ganjam district and Devi river mouth in coastal Puri district. Private operators involved in the tourism sector feel that as there has been a huge interest among the tourists to witness the turtle nesting process, the three rookeries can be developed as major tourism destinations.

Government file

Some time back the state government had floated a plan to develop the infrastructure for the visit of tourists to the three turtle nesting grounds. The plan, however, still remains in the government files and is yet to take off though the matter was discussed at a high level official meeting in the state secretariat.

Some officials argue that the turtle nesting ground inside Gahirmatha can not be opened to tourists as Nasi I and Nasi II islands inside the marine sanctuary where the turtles largely gather to lay their eggs come under the jurisdiction of the defence authorities. Both the islands are closely located to Wheelers Island in neighbouring Bhadrak district which houses the interim test range (ITR), the country’s premier missile testing centre.

Every turtle season, only a select number of state forest department personnel and authorised volunteers engaged in protection of the turtles and their eggs are allowed to enter into both the islands.

However, those in the tourism trade are of the view that if not the rookery inside Gahirmatha, the government can develop the turtle nesting ground on the Rusikulya river mouth—which is an equally important rookery for Olive Ridlays—as a major tourists’ destination. The Rusikulya nesting ground is already in the race to topple Gahirmatha from the top position. Like Gahirmatha, over three lakh turtles had laid their eggs in Rusikulya river mouth this season. In fact, the process had begun much earlier in Rusikulya this turtle season compared to Gahirmatha.

Similarly, the state’s 480 km long coastline is dotted with several sea beaches. However, only four of them - Puri, Konark, Chandipur and Gopalpur - are known as tourists’ destinations. The rest are yet to be developed and explored. Even in these four operational beaches, the infrastructure is dismal compared to other states known for their beaches. Those in the trade feel that if the government can initiate a comprehensive action plan for development of all its beaches, then the eastern state can give Goa, known for its beach tourism, a run for its money.

Officials in charge of tourism development, however, say that during the last few years the state government has initiated a number of steps to promote tourism and they have already started bearing fruit. In support of their claim, they give the example of the gradual increase in the inflow of both foreign as well as domestic tourists to the state.

In 2012 calendar year, a total number of 64,719 foreign tourists visited the state compared to 60,722 in 2011. Similarly, the inflow of domestic tourists to the state went up from 82.71 lakh in 2011 to 90.53 lakh in 2012. The inflow of foreign and domestic tourists had risen by 6.58 and 9.45 per cent last year compared to 2011.
The private operators engaged in tourism sector, on the other hand, are of the view that the inflow of both the foreign and domestic tourists could have been much higher had the government been proactive in developing infrastructure for tourists. “The state has the potential to double these figures if proper attention is given to the sector,” said a private tour operator.

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