Crisis for Himachal’s Tourism Industry Deepens with Peak Season Washout for Second Consecutive Year
Stakeholders of the tourism industry face financial hardships as working capital exhausts completely
Majority of tourism stakeholders not able to benefit from the scheme due to stringent conditions
Interest subvention scheme yet to be implemented
Biggest hurdle in the scheme is the cut off date of the outstanding balance of the loan
Defaulting EMIs ruined the reputation of the stakeholders and bared them to procure financial assistance in future from the financial institutions
The Association asks the government to ease down the restrictions and conditions on tourists as the daily cases have declined
Shimla-The tourism industry in Himachal Pradesh, one of the major sources of state economy and employment, is bearing the brunt of the pandemic more than any other sector as Covid related restrictions have brought tourism movement to a grinding halt. The sector has reported an estimated Rs. 1500 crores loss since the pandemic. It’s estimated that over two lakh people associated with the tourism sector are now unemployed. There is no count of medium and small-scale tourism-related ventures in Himachal that are now shut because of the pandemic-induced restrictions.
The cab drivers and transporters, who are an integral part of the hospitality industry chain, are also facing hardships. For several, paying instalments of loans procured to buy cabs/carriage vehicles is the biggest challenge. This crisis is not only driving them into a debt trap but also causing extreme psychological stress.
Meanwhile, the state government has failed in providing any substantial relief to the stakeholders of affected sectors. In April 2021, the state government had announced a 50 per cent concession on stage carriage special road tax (SRT) for three months from April. A 50 per cent concession on passenger tax on taxis and contract carriage was also announced along with an interest subvention scheme. The stakeholders say that the interest subvention scheme was yet to be implemented. Also, they can’t take loans as they have defaulted on loan instalments last year.
The situation for this sector has grown grimmer as the peak season gets washout for a second consecutive year. The Tourism Industry Stake Holders Association has once again pleaded Chief Minister Jairam Thakur to rescue the sector and its stakeholders from this crisis by providing reliefs.
“Three months of summer make peak tourist season and play a major role in the sustenance of the hotel industry,” says Mohinder Sethi, President of the Association.
“The tourism industry faced a complete loss of summer season last year due to Covid -19 pandemic. This year too, 75% of the season is lost,” he adds.
“The stakeholders of the tourism industry are facing financial hardships firstly because their working capital has completely exhausted and secondly because tourism in Himachal Pradesh has again come to a grinding halt since March 2021,” he further adds.
He further RBI’s restructuring of loans with a condition that the loan account should be standard as of March 31, 2021. However, the hotels have no occupancy for the last three months due to which the stakeholders could not pay their EMIs for March, April and May months.
The tourism industry remained closed for almost eight months last year due to nationwide lockdown. Now this year again just before the tourist season the second wave Covid pandemic has compelled the hoteliers to keep their units closed due to nil occupancy, Sethi says.
Stakeholder Deprived of Availing Benefits of RBI Scheme
The RBI has introduced the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme 3.0 to provide relief to the tourism, hospitality and travel sector but the majority of tourism stakeholders could not take benefit of this scheme due to its stringent conditions, Sethi says.
“The biggest hurdle in the scheme is the cut off date of the outstanding balance of the loan, which is 29 February 2020 that also with a condition that the account should not have a default of more than sixty days as on February 2020, Sethi adds.
He argues that the majority of tourism units were compelled to take fresh loans during the past year to meet their running expenses of the units because the state government had extended no assistance last year.
The Association says that the RBI needs to make amendments by extending the cut off date to March 31, 2021, and relax the condition of the number of days of default of EMI.
“The state working capital interest subvention scheme is still awaited. It has been observed that the process of extending help to the industry takes a very long time which creates a big gap between the ground reality,” Sethi says.
He says that the fear of declaring loan accounts as NPA by banks is a live example of it.
“If the financial assistance were provided on time it would have saved many tourism units loan account from slipping to non-performing accounts,” Sethi says.
He says that the labelling of NPA accounts has ruined the reputation of the stakeholders and bared them to procure financial assistance in future from the financial institutions. The tourism industry is worst affected throughout due to pandemic, he adds.
“The stakeholders are helpless because state government provided no financial assistance. On the other hand, there is no inflow of tourists to the state due to stringent restrictions imposed by the government to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
The Association is now asking the government to ease down the restrictions and conditions on tourists as the daily cases have declined.
“Now the graph of Covid cases is drastically reduced, and the need of the hours is to remove the restrictions like e- Covid pass and compulsory RTPCR negative report for tourists intending to come to Himachal. This will give some oxygen to the dying tourism industry because the tourism units can at least generate some revenue to meet their expenses up to some extent during the remaining 25,% tourist season,” Sethi says.
“We request Chief Minister Jairam Thakur to introduce an interest subvention scheme and remove the restrictions on entering the state in the upcoming cabinet meeting to be held on May 5, 2021, in the larger interest of the survival of the tourism Industry, Sethi said on the behalf of the Association.
HP Govt Employees to Get Higher Pay Scale on Completion of Two Years of Service: CM Jairam
Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government employees working in different departments before January 3, 2022, would be given a higher scale at par with other employees on completion of two years tenure of regular service. A higher pay scale was also announced for the Junior Office Assistants (IT) on completion of two years of regular service.
Chief Minister Jairam Thakur made these announcements during the Karamchari Maha Sammelan of the Himachal Pradesh Non-Gazetted Employees Federation at the hotel Peterhof on Sunday.
He appreciated the role played by the employee especially frontline workers in the battle against the pandemic.
He said most of the government employees in the state have been given revised pay scales and on average, every employee has got the benefit of a 12 to 15 percent salary hike. There has also been an increase in the pension of about 1.50 lakh pensioners of the state. The financial benefits of Rs. 7801 crore have been given to state government employees and pensioners from the year 2018 to 2022. The pensioners who retired before 2016 are getting the benefit of a 15 to 20 percent increase in the pension while around 40 thousand pensioners who retired after 2016 would be benefitted soon, he said.
He said the daily wages were Rs. 210 in the year 2017 which has been increased by the present state government to Rs. 350. Similarly, 12 per cent interim relief annually has been provided to government employees and pensioners during the present government’s tenure. He said the Himachal government has provided Dearness Allowance to its employees and pensioners on the lines of Punjab and Central governments from the due date. The Punjab government has given only 5 percent interim relief to the employees while the Himachal government has provided 21 percent interim relief to its employees.
“Out of the total interim relief amount given to the employees and pensioners amounting to about Rs. 6500 crore, Rs. 3500 crore has been paid during the tenure of our government” added the Chief Minister.
He said that the state government has increased the government contribution for NPS employees from 10 percent to 14 percent benefitting more than one lakh employees. The NPS employees are being given the benefits of retirement and death gratuity at par with employees falling under the old pension scheme. The government has also increased the upper limit of death gratuity from Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh.
The Chief Minister said the state government has also increased the honorarium of para-workers working in various departments. The salary of outsource workers has been hiked by Rs 1,500 per month.
Non-Gazetted Employees Federation President Ashwani Thakur thanked the Chief Minister for providing various financial and other benefits to different categories of government employees.
Most Covid Restrictions to be Lifted From March 31, Mask and Hand Hygiene to Continue
New Delhi-The Centre has issued a notification to the States informing that the provisions of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005 will not be invoked in the country after March 31. The Union Health Ministry said that the use of face masks and following hand hygiene will continue.
It implies that most of the Covid-related rules and restrictions would end.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla issued the notification which said that the decision was taken following the overall improvement in the situation and the preparedness of the government in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, local authorities and State police can still invoke fines and criminal cases against persons violating COVID-19 norms under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a senior government official said.
The DM Act was invoked on March 24, 2020, due to the pandemic
“Over the last seven weeks or so there has been a steep decline in the number of cases. The total caseload in the country stands at 23,913 only and the daily positivity rate has declined to 0.28%. It is also worth mentioning that with the combined efforts, a total of 181.56 Cr vaccine doses have been administered,” the notification said.
“I would like to mention that in view of the nature of the disease, we still need to remain watchful of the situation. Wherever any surge in the number of cases is observed, the States/UTs may consider taking prompt and proactive action at a local level, as advised by MoHFW (Health Ministry) from time to time,” the notification said.
The Indian government had issued various guidelines and measures for the first time on March 24, 2020, under the Disaster Management Act to curb the COVID-19 situation in the country, which have been modified several times thereafter.
India currently has 23,087 active COVID-19 cases and recorded 1,778 new cases and 62 deaths in the last 24 hours. The daily positivity rate has also declined to 0.28%.
HP Cabinet Decisions: Country Liquor Made Cheaper in New Excise Policy, Read All Decisions
Shimla-A meeting of the Himachal Pradesh Cabinet was held on March 20, 2022, under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
The excise policy for the financial year 2022-23 was approved. Approval was also given for the renewal of retail excise vends in the state for the financial year 2022-23 at the renewal fees of 4% of the value of unit/vend.
The State Government said that wants to enhance the government revenue and curb the smuggling of country liquor from the neighbouring states by a reduction in its price.
The brands of Country Liquor will be cheaper as license fees have been reduced. This will help in providing good quality liquor at a cheaper rate to the consumers.
In the new excise policy, the 15% fixed quota of country liquor for manufacturers and bottlers to be supplied to the retail licensees has been abolished. According to the government, this step will give the retail licensees to lift their quota from the suppliers of their choice and further assure the supply of good quality country liquor at competitive prices. The MRP of country liquor will be cheaper by 16% of the existing price.
In this year’s policy, the Gaudhan Vikas Nidhi Fund has been enhanced by Re.1/- from the existing Rs.1.50 to Rs.2.50.
The fixed annual license fee of Bars has been rationalized by abolishing the area-specific slabs of license fee. Now throughout the State, there will be uniform license slabs based upon the room capacity in hotels.
Rates of the annual fixed license fee of Bars in the tribal areas has been reduced considerably.
Further, all the above stakeholders will have to install CCTV cameras at their establishments as it was made mandatory for them.
Wholesale vends and retail vends, the penalty provisions under the H.P. Excise Act, 2011 have been made more stringent.
An end to end online Excise Administration System would be established in Himachal Pradesh, the government said.
HP Government estimates a collection of Rs 2131 crore revenue during the year, which will be Rs. 264 crores higher than the financial year 2021-22 – growth of 14% in state excise revenues.
The Cabinet also gave its nod to amend Himachal Pradesh Disaster Relief Manual-2012 to include deaths due to biting of honey bees, hornet and wasps, accidental drowning and deaths due to accidents of vehicles (including land, water and air) under this Manual.
The Cabinet gave its approval for filling up 11 posts of ‘A’ Class Tehsildar in Revenue Department through direct recruitment on regular basis through Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission.
HP State Toll Policy 2022-23
The HP Cabinet also gave its nod to HP State Toll Policy for the year 2022-23 which envisages auction cum tender for all the toll barriers in the State. During the year 2021-22, toll revenue has registered a growth of 20 percent of the previous year’s revenue.