It is true that religious and spiritual centres in the eastern UP region are major draws for pilgrims and tourists alike. It is equally true that they have been neglected by successive governments, across the political spectrum, and are in dire need of a makeover. With a pro-tourism budget and ample investment in augmenting infrastructure, Uttar Pradesh has taken a step in the right direction.

The big takeaway from Uttar Pradesh’s annual budget is a sharp focus on augmenting religious and spiritual tourism in the state. Adequate attention has been equally given to the construction of state highways and expressways and over INR 3000 crore has been allocated for the construction of Purvanchal Express and Bundelkhand-Gorakhpur link expressway, among others. Being home to a majority of religious and spiritual centres in the state, and the home turf of CM Yogi Adityanath has benefitted eastern UP, evident with numerous schemes and a substantial allocation share. The holy-trio of Varanasi, Vrindavan and Matura have been allocated 95 per cent of the INR 720 crore budget meant for tourism. A sum of INR 70 crore has been also earmarked for the effective implementation of the Tourism Policy 2018 that aims drawing tourism-related investments.

Infrastructure has been a major pain-point in these holy cities and the budget has intended to address the issue. The Brij region (the area stretches from Mathura, Jalesar, Agra, Hathras and Aligarh right up to Etah, Auraiya and Farrukhabad districts) has been provided with a sum of INR 125 crore to improve tourism-related infrastructure. The state government has also paid heed to a long-standing industry demand of constructing an auditorium in Mathura and has sanctioned INR 6.38 crore for the same. Additionally, a sum of INR 50 crore has been sanctioned for the World Bank-backed pro-poor tourism project which has an overwhelming presence in Mathura, Vrindavan and Agra.

Delving into more specifics, the holy city of Ayodhya, rife with tourism potential, has been given the due attention. A new airport has been envisaged at a sum of INR 200 crore, while INR 101 crore has been allocated for the integral development of the city.

Varanasi, the high-profile constituency of the PM, has been allocated a sum of INR 243 crores, a bulk of which has been earmarked for the expansion and beautification of the road from Ganga-riverside to Vishwanath Temple.

Talking about allocations for Varanasi, finance minister Rajesh Agarwal was quoted saying that the “implementation of Shri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Expansion Scheme is underway and INR 207 crore has been pegged for expansion and beautification of the road from the Ganga bank to Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.”

While the budget has been largely appreciated, it has also received some criticism. Many stakeholders have insinuated neglect on the part of the government in doing more for Agra. Secretary of Tourism Guild Association, Rajiv Saxena, was quoted saying that the tourism industry in Agra was disappointed with the budget. Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel of Agra, mentioned that Agra had three world heritage sites of Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. “Unfortunately, nothing much has been given to Agra and this is not only bad for residents, but also for the government as they will fail to increase revenue from the city,” he said. 

Spiritual and religious tourism is a core peg of India’s tourism offerings. The government’s intent of developing infrastructure, levels of cleanliness and connectivity are all laudable. Perhaps, some more attention was desirable for Agra, particularly in improving the ease of travel within the city. Travelling from one monument to the other is a cumbersome experience and enhancing intra-city mobility needs urgent attention, given the massive tourist influx, domestic and international.