Guest houses a drain on HP exchequer

Costly holidays

There is one class of tourists Himachal Pradesh is not happy with — bureaucrats and VIPs who burden the exchequer by thronging government guest houses as state guests.

The hills of Himachal beckon everyone when life in the plains of northern India becomes unbearable with temperature hovering over 40 degree Celsius.

The state has more than 750 government-run guest houses.  All charges are waived for state guests. At times, guests come with spouses or entire families.

“The government annually spends Rs 10 crore on maintenance of guest houses, leave alone the huge salary bill on the staff manning them,” an official who did not wish to be identified said. “But they generate revenue of less than Rs 2 crore.”

Enquiries reveal that the state annually spends Rs 5 crore on salaries and other expenditure.

“The frequent visits by VIPs and bureaucrats who demand accommodation in such guest houses are a matter of concern as the government is already fund starved,” said another senior official. “Their arrival suddenly picks up with the onset of summer and during Christmas,” said the senior official.

The extended weekend holiday bonanza throughout the year also drives many to the hills. “On an average, we get 100-150 requests daily these days about bookings in government guest houses. Over weekends, the number shoots up to 300,” said a hospitality and protocol department official.

The most sought-after destinations are Shimla, Narkanda, Kufri, Sangla, Kasauli, Manali, Palampur, Dharamsala and Dalhousie.

The official said a normal visitor is charged Rs 2,500 plus taxes per day for a room in the state-run hotel-cum-guest house ‘Peterhoff’ in Shimla. But those who get a booking through the state hospitality department pay just Rs 150.

From January 1, 2008 to February 2, 2010 at least 272 dignitaries and staff accompanying them were declared state guests by the government. This came to light in a written reply by former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal in the Assembly in 2010.

Of the state guests, judges — both serving and retired — of high courts and the
Supreme Court were extended hospitality 65 times, Dhumal said in his reply.

In at least one case, the distinction between the state and the party clearly blurred. This was when BJP leader L K Advani along with 21 party leaders were declared state guests from August 18 to 22, 2009 when they were in Shimla for a chintan shivir.

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