Ship­ping, Road Trans­port and High­ways Min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari

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Cruis­ing down the mag­nif­i­cent Ganges criss-cross­ing the ma­jes­tic Hi­malayas, in­ter­spersed with ver­dant ter­rains and vi­gnettes of the holy city of Mok­sha on the way, could well be an ex­pe­ri­ence to re­mem­ber. What if this cruise fig­ures right up there among the very best in the world and a must one to go for along with the likes of the Volga or the Danube? Check this out. Re­puted in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tion Conde Nast Trav­eller has put the Ganga cruise on its check­list as one of the top six river cruises to take in 2017. The global lux­ury and lifestyle mag­a­zine has placed the lux­ury cruise ves­sel Ganges Voy­ager II, which sails on the Ganga from Kolkata to Varanasi, in the league of cruises on the Mekong and the Yangtze in China, the Ama­zon in South Amer­ica, the Volga in Rus­sia and the Ir­rawaddy in Myan­mar. Ship­ping, Road Trans­port and High­ways Min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari, who dreams mak­ing In­dia a global hotspot for cruise tourism -- be it river or sea -- says mas­sive work is un­der way on the Ganges, be it for cruise tourism or cargo trans­port, and a 'nir­mal and avi­ral Ganga' will take In­dia to the path of de­vel­op­ment. "We are work­ing on a mas­sive scale to make In­dia a global hotspot in tourism. We have re­ceived of­fers from Dubai's Sul­tan to de­velop cruise tourism here," Gad­kari told PTI. Conde Nast's en­dorse­ment of the Ganga as a cruise des­ti­na­tion is a shot in the arm for river tourism in the coun­try. "Mas­sive work worth Rs 5,000 crore is un­der way to de­velop var­i­ous projects on the Ganga with the World Bank as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ment of multi-modal hubs," Gad­kari said. The In­land Wa­ter­ways Au­thor­ity of In­dia, a body un­der the Min­istry of Ship­ping, is fa­cil­i­tat­ing cruise op­er­a­tions on Na­tional Wa­ter­ways-1 (river Ganga) from Kolkata to Varanasi in col­lab­o­ra­tion with pri­vate cruise op­er­a­tors. The fa­cil­i­ties, pro­vided by the IWAI, in­clude nav­i­ga­tion aids, in­clud­ing night nav­i­ga­tion fa­cil­ity, em­bark­ing and dis­em­bark­ing at des­ig­nated lo­ca­tions, fa­cil­i­tat­ing ex­pe­di­tious cross­ing of the Farakka Nav­i­ga­tion Lock, pi­lotage, and as­sis­tance in dis­tress. The Na­tional Wa­ter­way NW-1 from Varanasi to Hal­dia is be­ing de­vel­oped by the IWAI, un­der the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP).

In ad­di­tion to be­com­ing one of the prin­ci­pal cargo move­ment routes in In­dia, this stretch on NW-1 has good po­ten­tial for river cruise tourism. The min­is­ter said that as many as 168 cruises had came to ma­jor ports last year and a ter­mi­nal in Mum­bai is be­ing con­structed at a cost of Rs 800 crore. Also, a pol­icy is in the works to make In­dia a global des­ti­na­tion for cruise ship­ping and work is in progress to iden­tify such cir­cuits. Five cir­cuits each are be­ing iden­ti­fied for in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic cruise ser­vices and a re­port is likely by this month. "En­dowed with a sprawl­ing 7,500 km of coast­line, we have taken steps in a big way to pro­mote cruise tour, which in­cludes re­lax­ation of poli­cies and de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture," he said. So far, Indians had been trav­el­ling to South-East Asia, the Mediter­ranean and the Caribbean to ex­pe­ri­ence the cruise, but for the first time, Europe's key player Costa Cruises launched Costa neoClas­sica in In­dia re­cently, which has con­firmed seven voy­ages. A task force to pro­mote cruise tourism in the coun­try has been con­sti­tuted un­der the chair­man­ship of the tourism sec­re­tary, with the ship­ping sec­re­tary as co-chair­man. The idea is to put In­dia on the global cruise map, both for oceans and rivers, Gad­kari said, adding that it comes with a huge job po­ten­tial. In­dia saw 1.76 lakh cruise pas­sen­gers in 2016-17, a merely 0.5 per cent of the global pie. Do­mes­tic cruise pas­sen­gers are es­ti­mated to grow to 1.5 mil­lion by 2031-32. Of the 12 ma­jor ports, only five -- Mum­bai, Goa, Cochin, New Man­ga­lore and Chen­nai -- have fa­cil­i­ties to berth in­ter­na­tional cruise ships. One of the cir­cuits iden­ti­fied so far is "coastal cir­cuit" for de­vel­op­ment of coastal tourism in­fra­struc­ture, an of­fi­cial said. The gov­ern­ment is de­vel­op­ing a modern 2 lakh square feet ter­mi­nal in Mum­bai to make it a land­mark des­ti­na­tion, which will have in­fra­struc­ture to ac­com­mo­date cruise ships with size for 4,000 pas­sen­gers. The project in­cludes hos­pi­tal­ity, re­tail, shop­ping, res­tau­rants and will al­low gen­eral vis­i­tors dur­ing non­cruise sea­sons. Apart from its huge coast­line, In­dia has the ge­o­graph­i­cal ad­van­tage as it is strate­gi­cally lo­cated be­tween the Mediter­ranean and China, he said. Re­cently, the Mum­bai Port Trust, which has a ded­i­cated berth for cruise tourism, hosted its largest pas­sen­ger ship Gent­ing Dream with 1,900 pas­sen­gers. List­ing out the pol­icy ini­tia­tives to pro­mote cruise ship­ping, the min­is­ter said ships are now al­lowed to stay for three days, up from the ear­lier 24 hours, and rules have been sim­pli­fied to at­tract more ves­sels. The gov­ern­ment has al­lowed for­eign flag ves­sels car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers to call at In­dian ports with­out se­cur­ing a li­cence from the di­rec­tor gen­eral of ship­ping till Fe­bru­ary 5, 2024. Also, ma­jor ports will of­fer a min­i­mum of 30 per cent re­bate across the board on all ves­sel-re­lated charges for cruise ship­ping and not levy any pri­or­ity fee. On land ex­cur­sions, an av­er­age tourist spends USD 70-100 per day and with a cruise ship of 3,000 ca­pac­i­ties. Also, av­er­age em­ploy­ment on a cruise ship, as per stud­ies, is one job for 3-4 pas­sen­gers, which trans­lates into a boost for re­cruit­ment as well.

Ship­ping, Road Trans­port and High­ways Min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari

Ganga River

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