Rajasthan Government on a Privatisation Spree in Tourism, Says Its Role Is Only That of a Facilitator

The state government has decided to close 15 of its 41 Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation units and lease two prime properties for 30 years – a move vehemently opposed by the employees.

Jaipur: Tourism is one of the mainstays of Rajasthan’s economy, with a share of over 15%. The state attracts over 10% of foreign tourists to India.

The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) manages numerous restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, motels, bars and means of transport, and plays a vital role in promoting tourism in the state. The RTDC is known for budget lodgings for tourists.

But for now, budget tourism is off the state government’s radar.

On Wednesday, additional chief secretary, tourism, N.C. Goel, at a press conference to enumerate the government’s achievements in tourism in the past four years, said that the role of the private sector in tourism is inevitable and the government’s role remains that of a facilitator.

Perhaps that is the reason why the state government decided to close 15 of its 41 RTDC units in November this year – a move which has been vehemently opposed by the employees.

Goel said that the decision was taken due to mounting losses. “The decision to lease the two properties has been taken after a study. In a transparent manner, the properties will be open tendered,” he said. He added that these units on highways were opened in 1975 when no alternative was available. But now as there are many options, these units have become almost obsolete and are accumulating losses.

According to the government, a technical study done to assess their feasibility suggests neither the government nor the private sector can ensure these units work successfully at their present locations, wherein rises the need for these to be sold or disposed off.

The 15 units which have been closed down include Hotel Haveli Fatehpur, Motel Pokhran, Motel Behrod, Hotel Vrindavati Bundi, Motel Shahpura, Motel Dausa, Jheel Village Ramgarh, Tourist Village Pushkar, Motel Ratanpur, Hotel Gawri Rishabhdev, Motel Ratangarh,  Hotel Jhunjhunu in Jhunjhunu, Hotel Chandravati, Jhalawar, Motel Mahuwa and Motel Devgarh, Rajsamand.

Many units that have been running profits included in the list 

The employees’ association insisted that the RTDC’s aim has never been profit-making, so the question of loss does not arise. Employees alleged that it is a planned strategy to give away government’s prime properties to influential private parties.

According to employees, Behrod Motel on the Delhi-Jaipur highway was running profits till three years ago, but then the government deliberately took away all its facilities and conveniences so that it started running losses.

Akhil Rajasthan Rajya Karamchari Sanyukt Mahasangh general secretary Tej Singh Rathore told The Wire, “These units are all budget hotels/motels. They were not meant to earn profits. Even then, some of them were running profits with minimal staff.”

According to official data that Rathore showed The Wire, the Behrod Motel earned over Rs 4 crore in 2012-13. In 2015-16, the profit came down to Rs 1.8 crore and in 2016-17, the profit was only Rs 1 crore.

Hotel Haveli in Fatehpur earned a revenue of Rs 13.54 lakh in 2010-11. In 2011-12, the revenue came down to Rs 6.18 lakh, but soon picked up thereafter. In 2016-17, the revenue earned was Rs 15.20 lakh. But even then the motel is on the closure list.

“When some of the units are earning a reasonable revenue, the government should improve the current services by investing some money. But instead of doing that, the government is thinking of closure of the units and transfer of RTDC staff to different departments. With minimal staff running each unit, tourism is being affected. The government’s intention is to run them down deliberately,” Rathore said.

N.C. Goel at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Credit: Twitter

Shortage of staff leading to inefficient performance 

Employees allege that in 2014, the RTDC had laid off 500 employees, claiming the losses would be recovered. However, the layoff severely affected the performance of these units as no new staff was hired.

Other RTDC units too suffer from a shortage of staff. Hotel Gangaur in Jaipur, which has a sanctioned staff strength of 100, has only 25 workers at present, who are required to manage 65 rooms. This has severely affected the hotel’s services. In 2006-07, the occupancy rate in the hotel was 72% but came down to 28% in 2015-16.

In Swagatam, another RTDC hotel in Jaipur, the occupancy was 54% in 2005-06 and in 2006-07, it went up to 64%. However, in 2015-16, it came down to 40%.

According to official figures, the RTDC has no operating losses. In 2006-07, the RTDC was in profit as regards to operational income and expenditure, amounting to Rs 660.57 lakh. But by 2016-17, its operational income and expenditure had turned into a loss of Rs 142.19 lakh. In 2015-16, it earned a profit of Rs 217.35 lakhs.

The RTDC has 900 employees whose total salary amounts to Rs 6 crore. Most of these RTDC units are huge havelis, have a heritage value attached to them and will be lapped up by private investors, claim its employees. “But what happens to the fixed assets of these hotels and motels if they are sold off,” asked Rathore.

Plans to lease two prime properties

Meanwhile, in a recent decision, the RTDC is set to lease out two of its prime properties – Khasa Kothi in Jaipur and Anand Bhavan in Udaipur.

Goel said that these two hotels are being given on lease for 30 years for operation and maintenance as they are running in huge losses. He emphasised that they are not being sold off.

He said the heritage character of the properties will not be tampered with as RTDC has incorporated terms and conditions after consulting with the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal.

Goel said there are 65 employees working in both hotels, with an annual financial liability of Rs 3 crore. The employees claim that have been providing feedbacks and suggestions for improvement for the past six years but no action has been taken yet.

Privatisation being criticised by many

The number of tourists who stayed in RTDC hotels and motels in 2005-06 was 21,1178. By 2016-17, the number had come down to 13,3830. In 2006-07, the room occupancy in RTDC hotels was 41.94% whereas in 2016-17, it had come down to 22.69%, official records accessed by the employees’ union through an RTI say.

Employees allege that the previous Congress government had sanctioned Rs 10 crore for the renovation of these two hotels. The funds were not utilised and properties were intentionally put in shambles. The present government is not capable of renovation them, they claim.

The Congress has also criticised the move of privatisation of the RTDC units.

State Congress chief Sachin Pilot said that the RTDC’s income has come down consistently. Under the name of privatisation, the government has transferred 50% of the staff in the last three years but despite this, RTDC’s losses have only increased to nearly Rs 34 crores, he said.

However, the BJP government claims that tourism has grown by a whopping 41% in the last four years and that 15.25 crore domestic and foreign tourists have visited the desert state since 2013.

The government also claims to encourage private investment in tourism as more hotels and tourism units are coming up in the private sector.

Rakhee Roytalukdar is a freelance journalist based in Jaipur.