Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) celebrates World Heritage Week from November 19 to November 25. The week is a commemoration of India’s rich cultural history and JICA’s continuous support to preserve the country’s heritage.
To promote tourism in the country, JICA has supported a series of ODA loan projects such as Tourism Development Project and Ajanta-Ellora Conservation and Tourism Development Project Phase 1 and Phase 2. These projects aim at strengthening the tourism industry by developing tourism-related infrastructure, promotion of comprehensive tourism development and preservation and conservation of World Heritage sites, etc. JICA has cumulatively extended an ODA loan of 20,320 million Japanese yen (approximately INR 1,319 Crore) for these projects.
Tourism Development Project was to improve infrastructure such as roads, bridges and facilities for the viewing of Buddhist relics in the state of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have many historical Buddhist sites, to promote regional industry. The project widened and improved the paving of 446km of national roads and 781km of state roads in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and built nine new bridges, in order to ease transport between tourist sites and shorten travel times. In addition, water supply and electricity distribution infrastructure were laid to provide tourists from India and abroad with adequate supplies of water and electricity, and rest facilities to provide foreign tourists, mainly from Japan, with good services. Data on tourist numbers from Sarnath and Kushinagar in U.P. show a steady increase from 1,409,000 in 1994, during the implementation of the project, to 2,249,000 in 1999, after its completion.
Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves, which were inscribed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1983, and other archaeological sites in the northern part of Maharashtra State required proper conservation and preservation. Their bedrock and wall murals had been exposed to rainwater percolation and weathering. In particular, the murals of Ajanta Caves had been deteriorating for years and remedial work was urgently needed. There were also immediate needs for improvement of infrastructure, and development of facilities for tourists. JICA extended its finance to the Ajanta–Ellora Conservation and Tourism Development Project for historic site conservation, improvement of surrounding natural environment, airport facilities, road, water supply and sewerage system, power equipment and tourism management system.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Katsuo Matsumoto, Chief Representative, JICA India Office, said
, “A rich history adds a lot of character to destinations for tourists and visitors. JICA believes that investing in heritage sites is essential for better visitors' satisfaction, comfort and experience. Tourism development can become especially powerful when cultural development through the conservation of iconic places is maintained. Convergence of quality infrastructure development and client-first visitors' experience is secured by operators with the participation of academic, local, and private sectors. Each site is first studied and maintained in order to sustain its rich cultural history and prestige."
JICA is also supporting "The Project for Construction of the International Cooperation and Convention Center in Varanasi" which was mentioned in the Japan-India Joint Statement in November 2015 where Prime Minister Modi had appreciated Japan's efforts to support the construction of the Varanasi Convention Centre (VCC) and recognized its symbolic importance as a sign of strengthening bilateral ties. JICA signed a Grant Agreement Phase 1and Phase 2 respectively in 2017 and 2018 with the Government of India to provide grant aid of up to total 3,042 million yen (approximately INR 197 Crore) for the project.
VCC is a sophisticated convention center, the facilities of which is aimed at providing opportunities for social and cultural interactions between people both in and outside the country. Through constructing an international cooperation and convention center, it is expected to strengthen of industrial competitiveness through development of the tourism sector in Varanasi. The design motifs of the convention center are Shivalingham (aniconic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva in Shaivism) and Rudraksha (a seed that is used as a prayer bead in Hinduism). It is expected to become a symbolic icon of Indian culture in the world’s oldest city, Varanasi.
To promote the connectivity to the heritage sites in Delhi, the JICA supported Delhi Metro project’s Violet Line which is also called as Heritage Line passes through various historical landmarks of the Old Delhi. Commuting to the sites such as Delhi Gate, Jama Masjid and Red Fort has got much easier for the people of Delhi and NCR after the commissioning of this section.
The heritage of India also lies in sacred rivers of Yamuna and Ganga, JICA has been working closely with the Government of India in realizing the Prime Minister’s dream of Swachh Bharat (Clean India) of which Clean Ganga Mission forms a huge part. The Yamuna Action Plan Project and Ganga Action Plan Project are aimed for reduction of pollution load in the rivers, increasing the aesthetics of the area and providing better experience to local population and foreign tourists.
JICA’s efforts in the sector have garnered national as well as international appreciation, accrediting Japan’s best practices to promote tourism attractiveness and competitiveness in India.