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KOLKATA, India – West Bengal government, for the first time, is focusing attention on developing tourism in and around the Sagar Islands and trying to promote the destination as the biggest tourism hu

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KOLKATA, India – West Bengal government, for the first time, is focusing attention on developing tourism in and around the Sagar Islands and trying to promote the destination as the biggest tourism hub in eastern India.

The decision to do so was taken after the discovery of a number of virgin islands near Sagar Islands.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to undertake a business trip to the islands on October 30 and 31, accompanied by a number of industrialists, with the aim of seeking investment in tourism and infrastructure development, said a Nabanna source.

The government will also project the deep sea port off Sagar Island as an investment destination, the source said. The chief minister’s business meet, is, of course, preceded by a series of meetings, trekking and exploration by senior government officers of places and entire routes that she is planning to showcase to the investors accompanying her on the the trip.

Though the trip primarily aims at seeking investment, the chief minister wants to project that the islands can, with a little help, be transformed into a tourism hub of international standard that could offer globe-trotters an exciting bouquet of travel experience: sun-baked virgin beaches, river and sea cruises, stays in tents and on yachts, adventure sports and, of course, the Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world, home to the Bengal Tiger. The Gangetic delta of the Sunderbans also offers spectacular views.

One of the challenges for the government was connecting Jharkhali and Sagar. Presently, there is an unorganized sector that operates boats and barges. “We now want to integrate this sector by offering operators some common facilities, on the lines of backwater tourism in Kerala,” said Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the principal secretary, transport. “We are evolving a model to create ethnic decor on these barges and streamlining them into systematic operations to offer tourists a safe, professional and high-class tourism experience without violating coastal regulations and environmental laws,” Bandyopadhyay added. The government, a source said, plans to offer a common booking system for all available facilities through a single portal. The grand plan was preceded by painstaking research and recces along the route by senior officials, such as the transport secretary, tourism secretary, director-general of coastal security and district magistrates. “This was essential to fix the nitty-gritty of the plan,” said an official.

The Sagar Island, which is one of the state’s biggest and most important pilgrimage spots, hosts one of the biggest annual congregation of pilgrims: the Sagar Mela. “Significantly, the tourism hub can grow without affecting or encroaching upon the mela, thanks to new areas we have stumbled upon,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Bandyopadhyay, who puts maximum emphasis on the water-inland transportation, has set up a task force headed by water inland transport director C Murugan to explore the possibilities in sea and river tourism.

The coastal region also offers innumerable creeks and rivulets to explore. Officials said that once the plan get approved, it will be included in the proposed tourism circuit project that the state government has planned on a 500km stretch from Jangalmahal to the Sagar Islands. The tourism department has submitted a detailed report to the Centre for the proposed project to be approved and funded, the source said.

The chief minister had already been looking for investors for the deep sea resort at Sagar Islands. “If the plans are executed properly, the entire region’s economy would get a boost. Now known as a ‘backward region’, there would be a lot of opportunity and employment once the plans are put in place,” said an official.

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