Uncertainty continues to baffle tour operators on the hiking of entrance ticket rates for various Mughal monuments in Agra.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has so far not clarified whether the rates would be revised upwards from April 1, as announced earlier. The new rates were announced last November but due to protests by travel and tour operators, including the Indian Association of Tour Operators, as also the local tourism industry, a decision was postponed till April 1 this year.
The present rate for domestic tourists at the Taj Mahal is Rs. 20 and this is proposed to be raised to Rs. 50. Foreign tourists have to currently shell out Rs. 750 and this will be raised to Rs. 1. 250. Rates for other monuments have also been upped.
However, the ASI has not yet announced when the new rates will come into force. According to the local ASI officials, the decision has to be announced by the culture ministry in New Delhi.
Sunil Gupta of Travel Bureau said the ASI should immediately clarify the issue and clear the mist.
"They do not have any clear policy. The rates have to be rationalised, but the hike should be reasonable. We are already concerned at the falling number of foreign tourists. The ASI obviously wants to reduce the number of tourists from the conservation angle, while the tourism bodies want the number of tourists to go up, " Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Agents Association of India and senior industry leader, told IANS.
"The minister concerned (Mahesh Sharma) heads both the tourism and culture departments. To increase the revenue we have given several suggestions. If the ASI hikes the ticket rates, the Agra Development Authority (ADA) too will increase its share and raise its ticket rates. Presently the ADA collects Rs. 500 and Rs. 250 goes to the ASI from the Rs. 750 ticket for foreign tourists, " he added.
ASI officials said there was no directive from the ministry so far, which means the present rate structure may continue.
The ASI has been chiefly concerned with somehow reducing the crowds at the Taj Mahal.
"The human pollution is creating problems and the increasing number has to be somehow rationalised in line with the NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) recommendations, " Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, told IANS.
"One suggestion is to limit the visiting time to two hours per ticket. The other is a staggered system which means you pay more if you want to go close to the main structure of the monument. Those who see the Taj from a distance pay less, those who go closer pay more, " he added.
One thing is for sure: All stakeholders will be waiting with bated breath till at least March 31. If there is no announcement by then it will mean the status quo will continue.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij. k@ians. in <mailto:brij. k@ians. in>)