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UTTAR PRADESH

26 January 2015

6

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R

ICH

in art, culture,

traditions, spirituality,

religion, and heart

there is a reason

why Uttar Pradesh

(UP) greets visitors by the million

every year. Visitors come to visit the

Taj Mahal, others to experience the

holy city of Varnasi and the sacred

Ganges River and others to shop for

the multitude of handicrafts and taste

the fabulous food. As a tourist hot spot

some choose to arrive by flight via the

many network of airports, others by

train on the picturesque railways and

others by car on the many freeways.

In the old days, swanky travellers

from far-flung shores would also have

arrived on horseback or, for those

looking for a more earthy experience,

by bullock cart, but sadly those days

remain no more.

I decide to be adventurous and

choose to go by car from my hotel in

Delhi. Once I get used to the bumps

and potholes in the road, I settle

down as we approach the Delhi Agra

Expressway into an almost somnolent

rhythm allowing me to relax and

unwind, something that is hard to

achieve in the bustling metropolis of

Delhi.

The drive is picturesque and

allows me as a casual observer to take

a peek into the everyday lives of the

people of Uttar Pradesh. As I look

out my window everyone seems to be

carrying on going about their business:

women balancing uncommonly large

bundles of something soft on their

heads; men manoeuvring enormous

and highly colourful plastic containers

on lengths of string; other men

transporting two lawn mowers at a

time on the backs of their bicycles

all with a smile. Feats that would

seem improbable elsewhere in the

world seem perfectly normal here.

My only regret I realise is that I am

not equipped with a better camera to

capture the images that I am sure will

remain with me forever.

A little further on we start to pass

tiny structures by the roadside that

appear to be made of scoops of dry

clay or earth. I think that there are too

many of these to be dwellings but yet

they seem big enough to house one or

two people. Consumed by curiosity, I

ask my driver what they are and to my

surprise I am told they are mounds of

cattle dung that are being stacked for

drying.

Dry cattle dung is used as a fuel

source since there is so much of it

and it is eminently combustible as

after burning, the ashes are ploughed

back into the fields to ensure the soil

remains fertile. It almost feels as if I

have been taken back in time to get a

glimpse of a way of life that has not

changed much for centuries. As we

pass the people, the fertile lands and

the cars I am in awe of all that I am

seeing.

All too soon I arrive at the Taj

Mahal in Agra and the journey is over.

The Taj Mahal, built by a grief stricken

emperor Shahjahan as a memorial to

his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, is

undoubtedly one of the most iconic

structures ever built by man and

attracts over 4 million visitors every

year. Over the ages, countless words

have been written about the Taj. I also

find myself in awe as I gaze up at the

Taj Mahal and am reminded of the

quote that describes the Taj Mahal as

having been designed by giants and

finished by jewellers. The Taj Mahal

is truly magical and amazing.

Due to the efforts of the UP

Government the queues are much

shorter than I expect given the

hundreds of thousands of visitors

daily. I buy my ticket and realise I

am not alone in being in awe of this

beauty. I wander around taking too

many photographs and knowing that

despite my photography skills none of

my pictures will even come close to

capturing the magic of the real beauty.

It is quite possible to visit Agra on

a day trip from Delhi by car. Many

leave Delhi early morning and return

back in the evening but I decide to

stay, explore and see what else Uttar

Pradesh has to tempt me. A few days

into my trip I am not disappointed.

Uttar Pradesh boasts three World

Heritage sites. In addition to the Taj

Mahal, there is also the Agra Fort and

Fatehpur Sikri. I realise I cannot go to

UP and visit the Taj Mahal alone and

miss out on a panoply of fabulous and

historic places and things to see and

do. These include exotic and poetically

named destinations like Allahabad,

Bithoor,

Chitrakoot,

Lucknow,

Sravasti and Vrindavan. Each of which

manages to play its part to make for a

fascinating and culturally rich state. Of

course, tourism means big bucks these

days and that makes it a ferociously

competitive line of business. Little

known destinations scrabble to find

unique drawcards in the hope of luring

tourists with bulging wallets to come,

visit and spend.

Uttar Pradesh displays an

exuberant and vibrant culture with its

many festivals, monuments, ancient

places of worship and viharas or

Buddhist monasteries. The tourist

guidebooks talk of the Kumbh Mela,

the largest peace gathering in the

world where millions of Hindus gather

to bathe in the sacred river. Held every

12 years in Allahabad the gathering in

2013 saw over 100 million visitors on

the banks of the Ganges.

As each day passes and my trip

draws to a close I wish there was more

time to enjoy all that Uttar Pradesh

has to offer. From the historic sites

and holy cities, to the handicrafts

and delicious cuisine there doesn’t

seem to be enough hours in the day to

experience it all.

For history buffs, the towns of

Sarnath and Kushinagar are located

not far fromVaranasi and are important

both culturally and for religious

reasons. Gautama Buddha is said to

have given his first sermon after his

enlightenment at Sarnath and then died

at Kushinagar. Making both places as

must-sees for Buddhists looking for

a bit of spiritual uplift. Sarnath also

boasts the Pillars of Ashoka and the

Lion Capital of Ashoka, which have

added much to our archaeological

understanding of the region. Another

must I am told is the 80 km trek from

Varanasi to Ghazipur and visiting the

tomb of Lord Cornwallis, the former

India Governor General, maintained

by the Archeological Survey of India.

Uttar Pradesh has more than

just monuments to offer. There

are heaps of places to stay in the

lap of luxury to truly experience

the culture and heritage of UP.

The Pallavi International hotel in

Varanasi, The Mud Fort Village hotel

in Bulandshahar, The Royal Retreat

hotel in Shivpati Nagar, the Nadesar

Palace in Varanasi, the Grand Imperial

hotel in Agra and the Jukaso Ganges

hotel in Varanasi boast a heritage that

is preserved while ensuring that each

of its guests is pampered with warmth,

and kind hospitality in true Uttar

Pradesh fashion.

The Fort Unchagaon hotel in

Bulandsahar, for instance, showcases

the magnificence and splendour of the

early 20th century colonial and Indian

style architecture. Every corner of the

interior and exterior of the hotel is

artistically decorated and must be seen

to be believed. Originally, constructed

using mud the ancestors of the present

owner came into possession of the

house by a twist of fate. In 1859, the

then owner was a Rajput Zamindar

who lost possession of the house to

the British after the battle of 1857.

The current owner, Raja Surendra

Pal Singh became the inheritor of the

palace in 1927 when he was just 10

years old. Awestruck by the elegance

of the old building he decided to

renovate and re-establish it and today,

Fort Unchgaon exists as a famous

heritage hotel of UP. Even to this day,

one can almost imagine Noel Coward,

Somerset Maugham and Rudyard

Kipling having their tiffin on the lawn.

The slow march of progress is

fast catching up with even the most

remote parts of UP and wise travellers

will do well to try and visit before it

all disappears. The tourism authorities

are doing their best to preserve this

marvelously historic and culturally

significant state but when it comes to

travelling there really is no time like

the present.

Investment

potential for

UP tourism

UTTAR

Pradesh (UP) has some of the greatest wealth in

tangible and intangible heritage. As a powerful economic

driver, its heritage has had undeniable positive implications for

its economy but a historical lack of proper infrastructure, poor

legislation and crumbling services have meant that in reality UP

has been unable to harness the true power of its heritage in a way

that drives inclusive growth and reduces poverty.

However it seems all that is changing, as the UP tourist

industry is undergoing a massive overhaul. Under the leadership

of its young Chief Minister (CM), Akhilesh Yadav, the UP

Government is working to address the current poor investment

climate surrounding the tourism trade by updating its 2002

Tourism Development Policy. A few of the initiatives underway

include cleaning up tourist destination sites, increasing

security at tourist destinations, improving accessibility,

implementing a pro-poor tourism development project that

prioritises the Buddhist Circuit and the Braj-Agra Corridor

to help serve as a driver for the socioeconomic development

of the state, addressing issues such as excessive red tape (e.g.

problematic visa procedures, complex and non-transparent

business regulations, licensing and inspection – especially for

hotels), enhancing municipal governance and legislating urban

land markets. Given its sheer number of tourists, cultural and

heritage sites UP is ideal for investors looking to invest in the

hospitality sector.

The UP Government, through its Department of Tourism,

has sought a loan of $410 million from the World Bank for its

anti-poverty tourism development project. The move means

that the UP Government will be in a better position to not

only implement the development project in the state’s primary

Buddhist Circuit, including Agra, and the Braj-Agra Corridor,

but also aid in reforming UP’s tourism sector as a whole by

providing public services to poor communities currently living

in some of the state’s heritage areas, enhancing the management

of the state’s natural and cultural assets as endogenous sources of

inclusive development, enabling private sector investments and

assisting in job creation for both youth and women.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has worked with

a Government-constituted multi-stakeholder Buddhist Circuit

Steering Committee to develop a five-year roadmap to establish

the Buddhist Circuit as a tourist and pilgrimage destination.

Titled ‘Investing in the Buddhist Circuit’, the roadmap outlines

actions needed to transform Buddhist sites and estimates that

$200 million in investment is required to improve infrastructure,

hotels, facilities, and services of logistics companies and tour

operators along the circuit, both through public and private

participation.

Serge Devieux, IFC Director for South Asia, said, “Private

sector participation is critical in this extraordinary, first-of-its-

kind initiative. IFCwill assist in nurturing a business environment

conducive for the private sector, encourage and invest in local

enterprises, domestic industry, and foreign investors to build

robust infrastructure, hotels, enable quality services along these

sites, and create better economic opportunities and jobs.”

Having funded $2 billion in more than 270 hotel projects

across the world, IFC is an experienced hotel investor and keen

to fund viable hotel projects.

TACKLING

law and order in any society

is a tall order but when it comes to one in

which there are over 200 million people

with disparaging and varying socio-

economic, educational and employment

backgrounds such as Uttar Pradesh (UP)

balancing the twin agendas of crime

prevention and punishment is definitely no

easy task.

In the past year the ruling party of the

so-called ‘lawless state’ has faced some

tough headlines for a number of heinous

crimes but as is often the case with some

media outlets (and political counterparts)

the good and productive work that is

being done is completely side stepped

and ignored resulting in a media maelstrom

and creating a negative ripple effect across

the globe.

Every Government, be that in India,

UK, or France must work continuously to

tackle the issues of law and order and the

current administration under the leadership

of the Chief Minister (CM), Akhilesh

Yadav, is doing just that. Since Yadav’s

inception his Government has done more

than any previous Government to tackle

crime in UP, be it for counterfeiting and

cyber crime up to more shocking offences,

such as crimes against children, and

women, those involving drugs

and narcotics and a range

of crimes that are far less

well known in the west like

foeticide and human trafficking.

But yet where are the headlines that

mention all of the above?

One person with

a good overview of

the real picture of

crime

impacting

the common man

on the street is

Dr. Roshan Jacob,

a female district

magistrate within the justice system in

Kanpur, one of the top 10 industrial cities

in UP. In her capacity as district magistrate,

Dr. Jacobs’ role is to supervise and monitor

the development of the district as a whole

giving her thorough insight into the

challenges and needs of everyday citizens.

Jacob is firmly of the view that there

have been significant improvements

in dealing with crime under the new

administration. “Crime is certainly higher

than we would like but crimes in general

are lower since the Chief Minister came to

office. A lot of measures have been taken

by Akhilesh Yadav to keep crime at bay,

particularly crime related to women. We

have the women’s Power Line, of course,

but each district has also taken up its own

initiatives and we have started a women’s

cell,” she commented.

Tackling crime against women is a

major focus and priority for

the present administration.

“The CM is trying to take

initiatives, make reforms and

implement policies to have zero

tolerance for crimes against

women. Suppose a woman has

been subjected to any offence

like teasing or purse

snatching or rape,”

says Jacob. “We

ensure that once

she calls us,

everything from

her

medical

examination, to counseling, to lodging the

paperwork, to nabbing the culprits will

happen within 24 hours.”

If a female falls victim to a crime of

a sexual nature, every point of contact

from there on will be with other women.

“When they dial the dedicated telephone

line, a woman will answer and a vehicle

from a dedicated women’s crime fleet is

dispatched with a female officer in it to

look after the victim of the crime,” says

Jacob.

Not everyone in UP is as bullish about

the swift effectiveness of the new policing

initiatives. The typical policewoman on

the street has a different take on things:

“Change is very slow.We are not seeing any

remarkable change in the situation,” says

Bapita Singh, circle police officer in UP.

Singh’s view is that the basic infrastructure

of society lends itself to tolerating crimes

against women: “In the lower strata of

society, crimes like rape and molestation

and other crimes against women, the girls

or women are unattended. This means that

they don’t have parents looking after them.

They are more prone to sexual harassment

and rape because they don’t have their

family around to help and protect them.”

It goes further than that. “Research

shows that 65 per cent of victims of rape

or molestation don’t have a toilet in their

home and so they have to go out at night

and this is when they become vulnerable,”

says Singh. This particular problem is

being tackled at both the national and state

level with PM Modi’s campaign of toilets

before temples, a campaign to ensure that

money is diverted to building toilets before

the building of any more religious shrines.

Singh is clear that the way forward

involves a humanitarian vision like the one

being espoused by the Chief Minister. “The

CM is doing a lot to improve women’s

security but there is a lot still to be done.

You can make new laws but there is still an

implementation issue.”

When Singh is asked what sort of

further improvements can one hope to see

and what more is needed she responds,

“We still need more female police officers.

Women officers deal with people more

sensitively. There is also a need for more

and better training of officers. There is still

a lack of professionalism in the police force

and a need for more modernisation. We

still lack resources and equipment such as

non-lethal weapons and vehicles. We need

to see modern control rooms introduced in

every part of the state.”

Overall the state has become much

more serious about the analysis of crime

statistics to ensure that real improvements

are being made and that crime is on the

decrease. This involves introducing crime

control measures while establishing crime

units that utilise more scientific crime

procedures to assess and deal with crime.

It also involves engaging anti-corruption

agents like Hitesh Awasthi, Additional

Director General of crime for UP(

pictured

).

Awasthi takes a dim view of people

who suggest that some sectors of society

do not have access to fair due process

in the criminal justice system. “Such a

perception is in the domain of imagination.

As a practitioner, I would say that this

is definitely not true. If there is such a

perception then we need to dispel it,” says

Awasthi.

Awasthi warms to the theme of

misperceptions that surround UP and much

of India when it comes to dealing with and

tackling crime. “Transparency International

[a global civil society organisation] shows

that India’s transparency has gone up 14 or

15 positions in one year. Perceptions keep

changing and things are improving all the

time,” says Awasthi.

These improvements are ongoing and

include a recognition that the state needs

to beef up its police force. At present UP

has about 141 police officers for every

100,000 people while the global average

for developed countries is around

300 per 100,000. As one of the

chief ministers priorities there

is a massive recruitment drive

underway. “We are in the process

of recruiting 40,000 new constables.

We are putting in advanced control

rooms

with

upgraded

technology, with vehicles

of their own,” says

Awasthi.

“UP is amongst the

safest states in India,

within the top 10 in

India,” Awasthi says. But there is still room

for improvement and this is why there are

so many initiatives being undertaken to

reduce crime rates overall but particularly

those that might involve women, tourists

and foreign investment.

“Some years ago as an experiment,

we introduced tourism police in Agra who

are at least bilingual,” says Awasthi. Agra

is home to the Taj Mahal and India’s top

tourist spot. “One of the issues that tourists

might find in rural areas is that the police

officer might not speak his language. The

tourism police in Agra have been working

for 10 to 12 years very successfully. They

know how to deal with tourist-related

crimes like lost or stolen passports and visa

problems.”

Crime and corruption are evident in

every society in the world and UP is no

different. How swiftly real change can be

seen to be taking place will dictate how

fast the state will develop both socially and

economically. Chief minister Yadav has

made the safety and security of women and

crime prevention a priority by investing

in initiatives, policies and programs to

make things better both for women and

for the common person on the street.

Even though change takes time,

based on the early results at the

grassroots level things seem

to be heading in a positive

direction.

Changing perceptions:

Law and order

Maintaining law and order is a tough challenge in any sprawling state with a huge population such as Uttar

Pradesh but under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav administration is tackling the issue head on and implementing

tough-on-crime measures in a move to make the streets of Uttar Pradesh safer for both its residents and many

thousands of tourists.

Robert Windsor reports

An unforgettable

life experience

Myth, religion and history have engaged in a curious interplay in the magical land

of Uttar Pradesh. The countless shrines, temples, and pilgrimages make for a

fascinating journey but combined with the graceful smiles, incredible handicrafts

and tempting foods visiting the vibrant state is an experience one will treasure for

a lifetime.

Paul McNamara reports

Hitesh Awasthi, Additional Director General of crime

The iconic Taj Mahal in Agra

The must-see ancient Agra Fort

Babita Singh, circle police officer, UP