The Covid pandemic has locked people in their houses. The tour guides have been furloughed as the pandemic sacked up the tourism industry. Months after the outbreak, various job sectors are reopening. But there is no hope of revival of tourism industry anytime soon.
More than 400 government-certified and thousands of independently working tour guides in Madhya Pradesh might be heading for a bloodbath. There are about 200 tour guides licensed by state tourism department and a couple of hundreds authorised by Archeological Survey of India looking for means of survival.
The domino effect of the closed international borders and minimal domestic travels has impacted the neglected lot of the tourism ecosystem the most. The tour guides get licences from the Government of India only when they agree not to do any job other than that of a guide. Now with the pandemic induced closed tourism sector, they have spent all their savings and are left with nothing to run their households.
Vivek Moghe, a tourist guide licensed by state tourism department, said the financial condition of about 350 regional level guides in Orchha, Khajuraho, Panna, Pachmarhi, Bhimbetka and other tourist spots have degraded in past few months. The government has side-tracked the community, he said. Moghe said they submitted several complaints and memorandums through Tourist Guides Federation of India to provide them financial aid during the lockdown, but to no avail.
He said the process to obtain a government licence is tougher than most people know. All the RLGs are graduates and some even have a higher degree with special language skills, said Moghe. In spite of that, they function as daily wagers and are a neglected lot without bargaining power due to lack of unity within their rank, he said.
As a result, their issues do not get highlighted anywhere, added Moghe, who speaks English and French. Batal Pardhi, a tourist guide from the wilderness of Panna, said the main occupation of their ancestors was to accompany hunters since Mughal period. Now that the practice is banned, they were brought into tourism sector because they know forests well. Their business was booming for last two years but the lockdown took away everything from them, said Pardhi. His community has no other source of income since they left dwelling in forests to merge with the mainstream economy, he added.
Anand Kabir Bharti, a Spanish, Italian and English speaking tour guide from Khajuraho, told Free Press that the government has turned a blind eye towards them despite repeated calls for help. All that the guides have demanded is to be provided sustenance salaries since they were the first people to be hit by the Covid-19 crisis because of mass cancellation of travel, added Bharti. But the ministry keeps delaying their demands, giving excuses like the matter is under consideration, said Bharti.