Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday launched the free pilgrimage scheme for senior citizens in the state, an official said.
The Chief Minister flagged off the first pilgrimage train to Rameswaram and Madurai, carrying more than 1000 people from 10 southern Odisha districts on a nine - day tour to the religious sites in south India from the Berhampur railway station in Ganjam district, said an official.
Earlier, the state government had announced to provide one - time financial assistance to senior citizens of the state for pilgrimage.
The ruling Biju Janata Dadl had also promised it in its 2014 elections manifesto.
Culture and Tourism Minister Ashok Chandra Panda said the state government has fulfilled the promise made during the 2014 elections.
Tourism Secretary Gagan Kumar Dhal said that 2, 000 more senior citizens would be sent on pilgrimage in next two phases from Sambalpur and Bhubaneswar railway stations.
Senior citizens aged above 60 can travel to various pilgrim sites including Haridwar - Rishikesh, Allahabad - Varanasi, and Rameswaram - Madurai, said a statement from Chief Minister's Office (CMO).
Except the income tax payee and retired government employees, all people irrespective of their religion after attaining 60 years are eligible to go on tours to holy places under the scheme.
One person can avail the benefit once in their lifetime, said the official.
The state government would bear the entire tour expenditure of devotees including travel, accommodation, and medical expenses.
The tours will be arranged through trains and buses.
The Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) for smooth management of the tour plans.