By bappaditya paul
West Bengal is all set to join the exclusive league of Goa and Kerala by enacting a specific legislation on tourism to guarantee a minimum standard of services for tourists.
The proposed legislation, the West Bengal Tourism (Regulation of Services) Bill, will be tabled in the state Assembly either in the upcoming monsoon session or in the winter session, scheduled for later this year. One of the main focus areas of the Bill is to curb ill-equipped tour agencies and lodging facilities in the state that often bring ill repute to Bengal.
The legislation seeks to do so by spelling out the minimum infrastructure and service standard for tour operators, hotels and other lodging facilities; putting in place a set of refund rules; ensuring a grievance redress mechanism both at the service provider and the civil administration level; and making it mandatory for service providers to share information on tourist flow with the state government.
As of now only Goa and Kerala are the two states in India that have separate legislation on tourism; in case of Goa it is called the Goa Tourist Places (Protection and Maintenance) Act promulgated in 2001 and in Kerala it is the Kerala Tourism Conservation and Preservation of Areas Act promulgated in 2005. “We often receive complaints about tourists being overcharged or not provided adequate services. There is also the issue of non-refund of money when a tourist cancels or truncates a trip. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to address all such issues so that tourists are not harassed and there is the guarantee of a minimum standard of services,” said state tourism department principal secretary, Mr Vikram Sen.
“Once the Bill is passed, it will become mandatory for tour agencies and hotels to obtain a registration from the tourism department and to avail of the registration, a service provider will have to meet the minimum infrastructure and service standard commensurate to the size and area of their operations,” he said. The state at present has about 2050 tour agencies having membership with three private tourism bodies; all of them, as well as the existing lodging facilities in Bengal will be given a time-frame to get themselves registered.
The state government had in 2012 tried to achieve this goal by invoking the Union government’s Sarais Act 1867, but failed. It will also become mandatory on the part of the tour operators and lodging facilities to send a monthly report to the tourism department about the tourists handled by them. At present, in the absence of any legal binding, it is a voluntary process that most service providers do not adhere to and thus; the state government is unable to quantify the actual tourist flow and their origin.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 7 August 2013 under a different headline.)