Tourism vision group efforts come under fire for city-bias

Durba Ghosh | Bangalore Mirror Bureau | February 25, 2016

The Karnataka Tourism Vision Group’s Rs 73 crore plan to strengthen tourist infrastructure and state’s cultural image has come under fire from artist-activists who are accusing it to be too Bengaluru-centric and corporate-driven, leaving out representatives from the art, literature, film and theatre community.

The Rs 73 crore investment – at least 50 per cent of it from private players – is aimed at setting up facilities near the airport for exhibitions and trade meetings; promoting certain regions like Hoysala, Srirangapatna and the Deccan Sultanate for the UNESCO World Heritage list apart from Hampi and Pattadakal; better connectivity from Bengaluru to Mysore through Kanakapura as the Royal trail; and extending the time limit for pubs and restaurants to attain a “cool” status for Bengaluru.

The KTVG’s recommendation on bringing private funding for maintaining art galleries, setting up a private trust (belonging to the members of the vision group) for Cubbon Park, and non-inclusion of representatives from art, literature or theatre hasn’t gone down well with several artists in Bengaluru.

The Rs 73 crore investment is aimed at, among other things, better connectivity from Bengaluru to Mysore through Kanakapura as the Royal trail: Gowda

Notwithstanding the controversy around the adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery by Abhishek Poddar of Tasveer Foundation (who also signed an MoU with the government in this regard), artist activists in the city are up in arms against the vision statement, terming it as biased towards corporates.

“There is no problem with corporates participating in this, but the problem is the group has not been diverse and inclusive and has not taken the art, literary, theatre and film community into their confidence and there has been no public consultation,” says publisher Sridhar Gowda, who with other members of the literature community is looking at taking up the issue with the government directly.

“(There is) No mention of Kuvempu, Tejasvi, Vachana literary trail or Ninasam, Bahuroopi National Theatre Festival at Rangayana. Is it because wealth, privilege and be set up on the lines of European Council, ICCROM, Burra charter (Australia), Rome, English Heritage and Natural England, to manage and maintain important tourist sites as heritage monuments. Gowda points out that Natural England is a public agency and English Heritage is a public charity, and private family trusts of vision group members taking over historic places based on the recommendation is gravely misleading, “as there is actually no public participation.”

The vision group also recommended that Karnataka Government set up a Cubbon Park Management Authority on the lines of English Heritage/National Trust in the UK. The National Trust, a public charity with 42 lakh members and 60,000 volunteers, manages over 1,000 historic places.

However, Gowda said that handing over management of heritage sites, museums and art galleries goes against the grain of equal ownership by the public.

However, the recommendations do talk about setting up an autonomous body with nominees from the various stakeholders of the park such as departments of horticulture, Kannada & culture, archaeology, the Bal Bhavan, high court, the museums, etc, as well as representation from private sector and civil society.

Biocon chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s eagerness to be engaged with this private participation with Bengaluru’s heritage sites, in terms of funding, was also trolled persistently on Twitter, accusing her of promoting vested interests.

Eminent artist SG Vasudev – also part of the vision group – supported the move to increase participation of corporates in managing art galleries, saying the artist community cannot sustain it on its own.

Author Vikram Sampath, who was one of the vision group members, however feels that the recommendations had amply taken into account every aspect of tourism, including local food, local culture and promotion of heritage sites. “When it talks about Coorg, and other nature trails, there is mention of indigenous cuisines and culture,” Sampath said.

However, he dismissed the fact the there is no mention of the culture of art and theatre. “There is a separate focus on Bengaluru as a city, since it is the gateway to other parts of Karnataka. And it has been clearly recommended that soft infrastructure of art and culture be highlighted wherever possible,” Sampath said.

The chairman KTVG Mohandas Pai and Co-Chairman V Ravichandar were unavailable for comments on the issue.

Gowda asked why the recommendations do not include representatives of villages while talking of village tourism, like the panchayath of the welfare group. “If these wealthy millionaires are really interested in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), how about focusing on the diversity of the vision group itself and diversity in their companies instead of focusing on prime public space for private interests?” he questioned.

The vision statement also talks about Coorg as a prominent tourist destination, with greater focus on certified home stays and coffee tourism. Elephant camps beyond Dubare is feasible under eco-tourism and in wildlife.

KTVG suggests undertaking a pilot project to improve Bandipur (or any other sanctuary in the State) in line with the best practices of wildlife tourism which balance tourism needs and conservation.

It also recommends a 435 acre plot near Bengaluru airport to be set up as a “world class” MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) facility effectively making the city a ‘Go To’ destination for events.

A master plan covering four million square feet of exhibition space, 150-6,000-seater conference halls over 600,000 square feet, 10,000 hospitality rooms, an entertainment district, experiential museums are envisaged.

“Around this MICE hub, there is scope for promoting adventure tourism in Nandi Hills, heritage trails around the Devanahalli fort and wine tours for local and outstation visitors,” the document states.

But Gowda says: “It seems to be a vision for Bengaluru.”