Tourism deal

By Bharat Lal Seth
Published: Monday 31 August 2009

Tourism deal

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A hospitality outfit attempts to restore Mansagar lake

Located in the Jaipur-Amber tourist corridor, the Mansagar lake is called the Jal Mahal lake because it houses the 18th century monument after which it is named. The lake was built after a famine in the late 16th century. As Jaipur grew into a tourist destination, the lake suffered. So did the monument. Soon, tourists started giving it a miss.

The lake gradually became a receptacle of Jaipur's garbage and untreated sewage. Things began looking up in 2004, the year the state government roped in a private developer on a 99-year lease to fund the restoration of the lake and the monument. This is the first such initiative in the country.

The lake, the private developer hopes, will be back on the tourist map, with a number of additions--resorts, luxury and budget hotels, foodcourts, gardens, public parks, entertainment centres--in about five years.These will be built on 100 acres (about 40 hectares) of prime lakefront land at the southend. This is dependent on the state government giving the go-ahead for construction, which the private developer hopes will come through in a few months.

The revenue from tourism would be tied with the lake's health. For this both the state government and the Jal Mahal Resorts Private Ltd, the developer, have invested money and engineering works. The state wants the lake and the monument to be entry points into the capital.

In 2001, a state government body, formed to draw sustainable development projects along commercial lines, submitted a project report on the lake. It recommended private players.

A year later, the Union environment ministry appointed the Jaipur Development Authority (jda) the nodal agency for Mansagar's restoration under the National Lake Conservation Plan. The ministry sanctioned Rs 24.72 crore. It gave jda Rs 17.3 crore and asked the state government to raise the remaining amount. jda built a two-km tourist trail and a km-long promenade, among other things.

In 2004, the state invited bids from private companies and leased the lake to Jal Mahal Resorts, after which the company and jda worked together. This work included diverting the sewage channels so that they do not drain into the lake directly (see box). Four years later, the private developers paid jda the first lease of Rs 2.5 crore. Jal Mahal Resorts has spent about Rs 25 crore to improve the quality of water in the lake and Rs 8 crore to restore the two-storied Jal Mahal to its former glory.

"Post restoration work, the common moorhen, a resident species, is also breeding in large numbers at Mansagar this year," said Harsh Vardhan, who has been conducting an annual birding fair since 1997 to draw attention to the lake.

Lake restoration plan

Should be completed in five years
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Activists are against privatization and say since the government does not own the lake, it has no right to privatize it. The government is merely a custodian of the lake, said Leo Saldanah of the non-profit Environment Support Group in Bengaluru. The non-profit has protested privatization of lakes in Karnataka (see 'Bangalore lakes leased out', Down To Earth, May 15, 2008).

The private developer argued it has added value to the project. "The Rs 3-4 crore we have spent on technical expertise and consultants to devise strategies to revitalize the ecosystem was not a part of the deal we signed with the state government; it was necessary," said Rajeev Lunkad, programme director of Jal Mahal Resorts. "The lake is of utmost importance as our future operations depend on the quality of its waters."

Rajasthan attracts about 650,000 national and 175,000 international tourists each year. Travellers must extend their stay at the state capital, said Gun Nidhi, general manager of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation. "For this to happen, we need to pack their itinerary. The project is the injection this city needed."

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