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Tourism Department Shelves Rulebook

Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar appears to have landed himself in yet another controversy by adding two event management agencies – Goldmine Advertising, Mumbai and Sean Ad Event, Panaji – without following proper procedures to the list of agencies empanelled with his department. The two agencies were added to the list under category A allegedly under the minister’s instructions despite objections from tourism secretary Sheo Pratap Singh. The standard operating procedure in selecting an event management company is that a tender is invited giving specific requirements and the bids are judged according to the criteria fixed and the track record of the company. Arbitrary inclusion of an event management company in the department’s list of empanelled agencies cannot be made as it denies other companies in the business a level playing field.

Tourism Minister Ajgaonkar must revoke his illegal decision. He must remember that there is already a negative public perception about his conduct as minister owing to appointment of his brother Shrikant Ajgaonkar on the board of directors of the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC). Shrikant Ajgaonkar is also on the board of directors of the Goa Football Development Council (GFDC). Shrikant Ajgaonkar is a doctor with the Employees State Insurance. Questions are being raised how a doctor of public entity can be a director on PSU boards. The minister must note that if he awards works to the two agencies in question his decision could come under the scanner of the Lokayukta and Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office. His brother’s appointment as director might be probed too.

All does not appear well in the tourism department. There are allegations that a senior official of the department had been ‘extorting’ 30 per cent commission from empanelled event management agencies for all works awarded. Though a complaint was lodged at the highest level of the government, no action was taken against the official. Empanelled agencies are alleged to have been carrying out works without any work orders issued to them. In some cases, work orders were issued to the agencies after more than half the work was completed or fully completed. The mess in the tourism department needs to be cleaned up.

At a time when tourism sector has emerged as a top revenue generator for the state economy, it ought to be given a proper direction. The role of the tourism department would be crucial in streamlining the tourism sector. The department is apparently in a shambles. Concerns have been raised by stakeholders in the tourism sector who have pointed out gross irregularities, mismanagement and corruption. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa has alleged gross harassment of small businesses in the tourism sector. The charges against those at the helm of affairs in the tourism department appear to be serious and should be promptly investigated and corrective steps taken. Given the fact that the tourism sector was one of the largest employers in the state, it is necessary that the government intervenes at earliest and ensure that it does not become victim of whims and fancies of the vested interests.

Goa faces a tough competition from major domestic and international destinations. This year the state benefited from the loss to Kerala tourism owing to the floods and the disturbed law and order situation owing to the dispute over the entry of women to the Sabrimala temple in accordance with the verdict of the Supreme Court. However, Goa might not be lucky every year. The tourism department should be committed to develop newer and newer tourist attractions and upgrading the existing ones to stay in competition. If the tourism minister is indifferent to promotion and growth of tourism and devotes his attention to get his brother appointed to the GTDC board and select event management agencies of unknown and unproven track record bypassing standard procedure, we can hope only for tourism to get worse, rather than competitive and better. The draft tourism plan took seven years in making. We do not know how many more years will pass before the department finds time to examine all the objections and suggestions.  Growth of tourism must not become slave to the whims and fancies of tourism minister. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s prolonged illness seems to have given room for the kind of arbitrariness of his cabinet colleagues that Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar seems to be indulging in. Perhaps Parrikar needs to intervene to make Ajgaonkar undo the decisions he has taken without following standard procedures and with the intention of favouring a member of his family.

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