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New Delhi, 1st April (IANS): Moves are afoot to open up out-of-bounds tourist destinations in the northeast of India and other border states to foreign visitors to boost India's tourism industry -- a major job creator that grew at over 15 percent last year. Union Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons said the issue was now before the Union Home Ministry, which was likely to take a call on it soon.

He also said the effort of the government was to move beyond the usual cliches about the country and market the "wisdom of India" and invite youth from all over the world to embark on a "journey of self-discovery" in this ancient land.

"We have taken it up with the Home Ministry two years back and have been repeating the request to them, saying all these (remote) areas must be made accessible to tourists, subject to restrictions -- whatever you think are necessary.

"I think the Home Ministry is in the process of doing that. That is the call the Home Ministry has to take, but I think they are pretty open to the whole idea. I hope we will hear good news about that soon," Alphons told IANS in an interview.

He was replying to a question if the government would make far-flung picturesque places, including Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, and parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, accessible to foreign tourists.

In a wide-ranging interview at his office in Paryavaran Bhavan, the civil servant-turned-politician said the government's "huge focus" on the Northeast and other Himalayan states would boost the Indian tourism industry -- currently the seventh-largest in the world and tipped to be the third-largest travel economy by 2028.

He said despite negative travel advisories, the Indian tourism industry was still doing pretty well.

"The year 2017 was very good, with 10.2 million foreign tourist arrivals, which is an increase of 15.8 per cent from the last year. The global rate of growth is only five per cent.

"Receipt of these foreign tourists was $27 billion That is an increase of 20.2 per cent in terms of revenue.

"And domestically, 7.8 million travels were made last year. As such, a large part of our focus also goes to domestic tourism. In a country of 1.2 billion people, it can spin huge growth, it can generate incredible amounts of revenue."

So what next?

"We want to double the number of foreign tourist arrivals and double their receipts in three years. We want to double domestic tourist trips in three years and we think all this is possible."

The number may appear staggering but is not over-optimistic, he said.

According to the 2018 economic impact report by World Travel and Tourism Council, India is all set to establish itself as the third-largest travel and tourism economy by 2028.

The country, according to the report, will add nearly 10 million jobs in the tourism sector by 2028 and the total number of jobs dependent directly or indirectly on the travel and tourism industry will increase from 42 million in 2018 to over 52 million in 2028.

The minister said it was still a conservative estimate going by the "incredible possibilities" the tourism sector has.

"One of our biggest focuses is the Northeast. All the states in the region have potential and we will work on them. We are working on adventure tourism. You see, 70 per cent of the Himalayas is in India. And we do not need much investment for para-gliding, river-rafting, trekking, cycling in the entire range -- from Kashmir to the Northeast, through Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh."

The government, he said, was no longer selling only monuments, food, culture or natural beauty of a country with a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

"What is this civilisation? Is it just about the monuments, food, culture, people, heritage? No. We have condensed this entire 5,000-year-old India and its legacies into yoga, into ayurveda, into the wisdom of India. We are marketing the wisdom of India."

And the target, he said, were "young, enthusiastic, hyper-active millennials" across the world.

"We thought yoga was for old people. But no. Here is a guy who is a hyper-active motorcycle racer looking for peace of mind. So we are saying, this is India's wisdom. Come and embark on the journey of self-discovery, find yourself with the wisdom of India," Alphonse said, showing a new one-minute "Incredible India" TV commercial titled "The Yogi of the Racetrack".

The short film was released in Europe on February 23 and the minister said "it has attracted an incredible response with 20 million views in the first 20 days of its release".

He admitted that the country, to realise its tourism dreams, needed "massive" infrastructure development.

"Like improving connectivity, building hotels, restaurants. We are taking up these issues with various ministries and working in coordination with them. Like for road connectivity, I am taking it up with (Minister for Road Transport & Highways) Nitin Gadkari. For air connectivity, I will take it up with the Civil Aviation Ministry, and other issues with everybody else."

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San Francisco, 27th March (IANS): Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has suspended ride-hailing giant Uber's self-driving vehicle tests following a fatal accident at a suburb in state capital Phoenix.

"The move by Ducey is notable for the governor, who is an advocate for fewer regulations in a bid to attract companies and high-paying tech jobs to the state," Fortune reported late Monday.

"As Governor, my top priority is public safety. Improving public safety has always been an emphasis of Arizona's approach to autonomous vehicle testing and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in Arizona," Ducey wrote in a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Uber has already suspended its self-driving operations in cities including Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto following the fatal accident.

A self-driving Volvo SUV from Uber travelling at 64 km per hour killed a woman last week, triggering a heated debate on whether autonomous cars are safe enough and who is to blame for the death.

According to the police, the victim was walking outside of the crosswalk when she was hit by the car, which was in autonomous mode at that time although a vehicle operator was behind the wheel.

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Kannur (Kerala), 25th March (IANS): A massive protest, led by top opposition leaders from various parties lines, was held here on Sunday to support the demand for a realignment of a by-pass near here, with participants asserting that they would not allow paddy fields to be sacrificed to build it.

Among those who led the march were former State Congress President V.M. Sudheeran, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and superstar Suresh Gopi, six-time Independent legislator P.C. George, Aam Aadmi Party leader C.R. Neelakandan and several environmentalists.

The protest came a day after top leadership of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist's local unit, which is strongly supporting the by-pass, took to the streets here shouting slogans against the protesters, saying they have an "anti-development" agenda and calling to isolate them.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the district CPI-M leadership however contend that a total of 11.5 acres of paddy fields is being taken and all, except four people, have agreed to it. They accused "vested interests behind the protesters of misleading the hapless local populace".

However, in Sunday's protest, Sudheeran said he is surprised to see that while the CPI-M lead protests against taking over farm lands for development in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, here they are the biggest supporters for it.

"What must be noted is that no environment and social impact assessment study was undertaken nor was an expert opinion sought for this proposed alignment. The National Highways Authority of India and the Kerala government have joined hands to destroy the paddy fields, which is the source of employment for many here. In no way will we allow this paddy lands to be taken over for the by-pass," he said.

Asking Chief Minister Vijayan to intervene and settle this issue as the protesters have a genuine case, Gopi said: "My state party president has briefed a cross section of the Union Ministers stating that the present alignment has to be changed as the demands of the protesters are genuine".

"The Union government is only willing to help resolve this issue as the protesters are not against the by-pass but are against this present alignment," he added.

George went a step forward and asked Vijayan to explain the fact that arrangements have been done with a group for Rs 70 crore as eight lakh lorry loads of mud are required to fill up this paddy field for constructing the by-pass.

"If the CPI-M leadership here do not learn from what happened in West Bengal and Tripura, then they are in for bad times. No one is against development at all... it's the manner in which development is forced on hapless people, that is being opposed," he said.

Incidentally , the protest is taking place at one of the strongholds of the CPI-M in Kannur and most of the protesters are all hardcore CPI-M activists. But with the Vijayan government adamant, they decided to seek the support of all people who support the environment.

Meanwhile, sensing that the protest could turn out to a problem for the CPI-M in Kannur, state PWD Minister G. Sudhakaran, who had attacked the protesters, has written to the NHAI to see if an elevated highway is possible through the present alignment, in a bid to quell the public anger.


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Kochi, 23rd March (IANS): Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan on Friday batted for the country to have a revolution in education and skill building and bringing talent back from abroad.

Currently teaching finance at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, Rajan said: "We are not as global as we should be".

"Too many of our people are too poorly educated or skilled to compete in a globalised tech-enabled economy. If we don't do that we will end up with a two-tier economy of a few 'haves' and a vast population of 'have-nots', which is neither socially stable nor desirable," said Rajan during a keynote address outlining his vision for India at the #FUTURE Global Digital Summit organiSed by the Kerala government here.

Accelerating the pace of growth and technology adoption was what he emphasised on during his half-hour talk.

"Even as we improve infrastructure and logistics through the massive investments that we envisage, we have to recognise that the export-led growth path is closing quickly, partly as a result of political movements in the West to build tariff walls, and partly because technology is allowing them to bring back the jobs into their country through customised machine-based programmes utilising less labour," he said.

He also warned that the global economic recovery is likely to be hit if the trade war intensifies between the US and China and wished better sense prevails.

According to him, politics is one of the reasons that change does not happen fast enough.

"Any change hurts the incumbents and those incumbents strike back. Today the mood against trade is often really a disguised move against technology. You can't proceed against technology, but you can against trade. Ultimately the cause is the loss of jobs."

"India needs to join the global supply chains sooner rather than later, so we have positions there that we can defend," he said, adding that "we need to keep a focused tariff regime to be able to do so".

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Mumbai, 14th March (IANS): The Indian foundry industry, the third largest in the world, expects to create 2.50 million job in the next four years, said an industry official here on Wednesday.

According to Indian Foundry Organisation (IFO) President H. Sundara Murthy, the foundry industry is anticipating an investment of $3 billion, while the National Steel Policy envisages steel production to touch 110 million tonnes by 2019-2020.

"India's export market share can rise from 2-3 percent now, to about 6-7 percent, which will enhance foreign exchange earnings. The industry's employment rate is around 2.5 million and if the industry grows at a rapid rate in the next three-four years, there is scope for employing 2.50 million people more," he said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the 1st International Metal and Foundry Expo as part of the 'Make In India' initiative in Bombay Exhibition Centre here, he noted that India presently manufactures castings of around 10 million tonnes annually, but it can jump to double drive by domestic demands with emphasis given on railways, defence and infrastructure sectors.

The three-day expo-cum-conference will provide business opportunities for manufacturers of foundry, metal, metallurgy, steel and allied industries to showcase their technologies, new initiatives, products and services before a global audience.

Some of the top government departments and others participating in the expo include Indian Space Research Organisation, Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd, Mecon, MSME Tool Room, the Construction Industry Development Council, Afeco, Aimil, Altair Engineering, Bla Coke, CU-Built, Eirich, Faro, GNR, among many others.


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