Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Wednesday expressed disappointment over the omission of Odisha from the Centre's list of 17 iconic tourism sites and sought the inclusion of at least two important tourist places of the state. Patnaik said Odisha houses a mesmerising array of tourism sites, from ancient to modern and from manmade marvels to nature's most captivating abodes.
The status of iconic tourism site would enhance visitor experience, leading to an increase in the number of tourists to the state, he said in a letter to Union Minister of State for Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel. "The omission of Odisha from the list of 17 iconic tourism sites referred to in the Budget 2019-20 has come as a surprise to the state," Patnaik said.
The tourism sector contributes about 13 per cent to the state's GDP and needs a strategic boost. "Keeping in view the importance of the tourism sector for Odisha, it is requested that the government of India may consider inclusion of at least two of the above mentioned tourist places of importance in the list of iconic tourism sites," Patnaik said. During her maiden Budget speech, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said 17 model sites chosen by the Centre would be developed into world-class destinations to encourage tourist arrival. She, however, did not elaborate which are the chosen sites.
In March 2018, the then Union tourism minister K J Alphons had told the Lok Sabha that the sites include the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh), Ajanta and Ellora caves (Maharashtra), Humayun's Tomb, Qutub Minar and Red Fort (Delhi) and Colva Beach (Goa). The other tourism spots are: Amber Fort (Rajasthan), Somnath and Dholavira (Gujarat), Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), Hampi (Karnataka), Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), Kaziranga (Assam), Kumarakom (Kerala) and Mahabodhi Temple (Bihar).
Patnaik in his letter said the Konark Sun Temple, Chilika Lake, Bhitarkanika National Park, Similipal National Park and the diamond triangle Buddhist circuit are some of Odisha's prominent sites. The Sum Temple was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984. He added that the pristine Chandrabhaga beach near Konark Temple is among India's best beaches shortlisted for Blue Flag Certification. "It makes the destination the most exotic synthesis of the contemporary luxury, traditional heritage and adventure tourism."
The iconic Blue Flag is one of the world's most recognised voluntary eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators. In order to qualify for it, a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria must be met and maintained. About Chilika Lake, he said it is the second-largest Ramsar Wetland (designated in 1981) and also Asia's largest brackish water lake and globally, among the most prominent wintering grounds for migratory birds.
"The mega diverse wetland is also home to among the last surviving endangered Irrawaddy dolphins," Patnaik said. He described the Bhitarkanika National Park as one of the largest mangrove eco-systems in the country and said the national park once held the Guinness World Record for housing the world's largest crocodile (23 feet).
Designated as a Ramsar site in 2002, it also houses the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, which is a renowned rookery for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, Patnaik said. He referred to the Similipal National Park, which was notified as a biosphere reserve in 1994, as not only a tiger reserve but also a part of the Mayurbhanj elephant reserve. It is home to 75 per cent tigers, including the rare melanistic tigers, and 25 per cent elephants of Odisha.
Ratnagiri-Lalitgiri-Udayagiri complex has the largest concentration of Buddhist remains in Odisha and the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang is recorded to have seen more than 100 Buddhist monasteries, including several centres of learning, during his visit to Kalinga in 7th century AD, Patnaik said in his letter, a copy of which was released to the media.
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