Joint Tourism Management Committees (JTMCs)
Grassroots solution to evolution of tourism sector in Manipur

Rajesh AMh *

It is not always bad or wrong to begin on a true sad note. Tourism in our state of Manipur is a victim of circumstances. Many issues like ad hoc bandhs, insurgency, in adequate infrastructure etc have negatively affected prospects of evolution of a sound tourism. If we look at the statistics of tourism especially the number of visitors (both domestic and foreign), it is abysmal.

The reason is related to both supply and demand aspects. The supply aspects include adequate infrastructure, responsibility and more importantly a sense of safety and security to be instilled among visitors. The demand side will follow, spontaneously, once the supply sector is ready. Despite all such avoidable chaos, there is so much in our state of Manipur, especially Loktak lake, Sangai, the pride of Manipur, Polo, various forms of indigenous and traditional dances/songs, weaving, various dishes, our accomplishments during world war II, different cultures, organic agriculture, wildlife, village life, adventure sports, handicrafts, etc to present to the fellow citizens and friends from other countries.

Our state is endowed with natural capital like mountain ranges with scenic beauty, wildlife like indigenous and unique flora and fauna, rivers, lakes, migratory birds etc which is a primary requirement to install tourism with social and financial capital occupying secondary and tertiary roles. In such confusion, natural capital is the yet to discover winner.

Tourism depends on numerous factors of which quality of natural capital like forests, wildlife, water sources, mountain ranges etc and its conservation is most important and natural capital indirectly or directly depends sustainable tourism, and hence both tourism and natural capital are inseparable and offer huge potential for socio-economic upliftment of the poor. The untapped tourism potential of our state can be better exploited only if tourism is installed and initiated. For this to happen the best way is to decentralize how tourism is managed.

History was created in the field of forest management by establishment of Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC's). JFMC's were established following The Indian Forest Policy of 1988 (then MoEF, 1988) and the subsequent government resolution on participatory forest management (then MoEF, 1990) to encourage people to identify themselves with the forest development and management through participatory planning and management. They are registered societies and duly elected. The results accomplished, especially in states like Manipur where forests are managed by communities, are encouraging.

Taking a cue from joint forest management committees where both the communities and forest department join hands to manage forests, the same model can be adopted through establishment of Joint Tourism Management Committees (JTMC's). These committees be given the responsibility of supply chain management and the government can join hands to impart them skills, knowledge and more importantly investment in infrastructure in hospitality sector. The funds be given to JTMC's to establish basic tourism infrastructure to ensure accessibility, safety, security and healthy stay of tourists.

The financial capital for establishment of infrastructure may be shared between state and /or union government (70%) and community (30%). The motive behind 30% contribution by community is to instill sense of ownership and responsibility of tourism (and resources) management. Similarly the benefits derived from such management be shared between state government and the JTMC's at the rate of 50% each. It is about transition from absolute responsibility (of government) towards shared responsibility (of government).

JTMC's along with state and/or union government should invest in proper planning, product development and marketing. The best advertising practice is to facilitate shooting of commercial movies and documentaries. A tripartite MoU between JTMC's, government and other agencies like private tour operators, tourism marketing organizations (both domestic and international), online travel agencies like makemytrip,, goibibo, domestic and international Tour operators (Thompson, Thomas cook, Cox and kings etc), hotel chains and private and public sector airlines etc is necessary in order to build up tourism network of JTMC's and make community not only stakeholders but also responsible. Training in the field of preparation of cuisines of various countries, sanitation and hygiene, languages, tourist guides, drivers and more importantly, conduct of all the stakeholders is a must value addition.

As most of the nature based (natural capital) tourist spots fall in the forest areas, it is logical and rational to utilize the existing JFMC's (as additional responsibility of managing tourism) in areas where there are places of tourism importance. In areas devoid of JFMC's it is rational to establish JTMC's to install tourism. Because in order to take off we should first have runway. As a beginning a Pilot project may be taken up in suitable location by formation of JTMC's.

Even the existing tourism infrastructure of the state is under-utilized because of obvious reasons. Government infrastructure is a default target of many expected threats to tourism. Outsourcing the existing tourism infrastructure to JTMC's will reduce the pressure on government. The issue of Tragedy of the commons (In case of resources owned by community but utilized by individuals for maximizing their own profit without concern for collective interest) in case of common property resources can be well addressed through JTMC's.

JTMC's should mainly focus on our indigenous strengths like presenting skills of Local artisans, handicrafts, organic cultivation of crops, traditional methods of curing/traditional medicine, traditional martial arts, organizing summer and winter school camps, traditional dance festivals/competitions, tournaments like polo, football, rural tourism paddy fields, folk dances, drama, traditional instruments, traditional games, handicrafts, trekking expeditions, wildlife tourism based on sangai, migratory birds etc.

The driving force to have JTMC's is the community ownership of the land especially natural capital like forests etc and only through grassroots participation and subsequent confidence and assurance given to visitors that the negative travel advisories can be defeated. JTMC's can provide quality service in hospitality industry, ensure safety and security of the guests/tourists and place tourism industry in the exempted list of ad hoc bandhs.

JTMC's can prevent negative fallouts of tourism on social, cultural and environment diversity. For example drug abuse and trafficking, exploitation of women etc are few such negative fallouts of unregulated tourism as is evident in capitals of few developing countries in Central Asia, Asia and also in developed world. When people are stakeholders such impacts don't even find a trace of origin. Since cooperation of civil society is integral in JTMC's it makes process of regulation by government easier.

JTMC's can contribute to clear ecological, social and economic benefits. Because tourism depends on natural capital of our rivers, forests, wildlife, mountains, waterfalls etc. Communities through JTMC's will have to conserve natural capital for tourism to get installed and sustain. Socio-economic benefits arise as money can be brought in to local economy and subsequent financial activity promotes sustainable economic growth. At the same time indigenous communities can retain cultural and social identities along with the opportunity for the youth to stay within their localities. This will reduce scope for employment oriented migration to other parts of the country or other countries.

JTMC's can bring in community participation, access to assets and non-financial benefits and ensure inclusiveness by contributing to Pro-people, pro-poor tourism. Hence formation of JTMC's is a key to install inclusive and sustainable tourism in Manipur but conditions apply. Only sites with sustainable tourism potential can help providing sustainable employment and is rational to have JTMC's at such sites. It should be the joint responsibility of community and the government to scout for such locations. Let us show the world that tourism is not about situation in the past but about present and future.

The new slogan for tourism be "Tourism for present and future all"

* Rajesh AM wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Rajesh AM is 2013 batch Indian Forest Service Officer of Manipur cadre. He is currently posted as DFO/Senapati Forest Division, Government of Manipur. Views expressed by the author are personal
This article was posted on October 28, 2016.

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