Women's Day 2021: 'Male or female-dominated IAS service does not make a difference,' says Valsa Nair Singh

Tell us about your experience of tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a crisis we have never faced before. We honestly did not figure out how to handle it, but I would say we learnt on the job. It has been team work; we did not work solo. The entire government was together with each department complementing each other. I was looking after the stranded tourists as part of the Vande Bharat mission. In the initial days, we were unsure about how to handle it, but in two weeks it was like a well-oiled mission. Our target was to make things comfortable for people, and tourists in particular.

Were you ever left out from decision-making in COVID-19 management, or other issues?

Let me make it clear that as an IAS officer it was a satisfying experience. Male or female-dominated IAS service does not make a difference because it is only in the mind. I don’t think it is male-dominated. There may be more men around, but when it comes to competence there is absolutely no difference.

What efforts were taken to revive the tourism sector?

Tourism and hospitality sector has been the most affected sector in the coronavirus pandemic. It is the first to be affected and last to bounce back. Revival can be in many ways. One can be providing concessional packages, second can be by infrastructural support from the government, and third can be by policies. So, these are the three verticals we worked on. As far as concessional packages are concerned, we expected the Government of India with their Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package would have something, but unfortunately tourism was left out. Then the state allowed us to come with plans as the service industry is biggest in Maharashtra, and tourism is one of the biggest service industries in terms of the employment opportunities. So, for every one million investment, 11 jobs are created. And, it is not only direct employment, tourism also gives you a large number of indirect employment opportunities. The government took very progressive and revolutionary steps in giving tourism an industry status. This decision was taken in 1999, but was implemented recently. This was how we turned the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity. That was a landmark decision after which many states started following our example; Karnataka just passed it.

This may be a dull season for tourism, but it is the right time for us to build our infrastructure. To get more investment in the hospitality sector in the state, we implemented two policy changes. One was to focus on the ease of doing business in the sector in which the post operationalising licenses will be reduced to 10 from 70, which makes it easier, and everything is done online. Second, announcing PPP for investments.

Let me make it clear that as an IAS officer it was a satisfying experience. Male or female-dominated IAS service does not make a difference because it is only in the mind. I don’t think it is male-dominated. There may be more men around, but when it comes to competence there is absolutely no difference.

We took with cabinet some of the prime properties of MTDC under PPP on a 90-year lease. MTDC will be a partner, who we hope will get big hospitality chains to come to Maharashtra.

What other policies were introduced, and are there more in the pipeline?

Beach shack policy was announced to give a proper legal framework, and to identify the sites. We have to ensure that we are preserving the ecological balance, local employment gets priority, and we are doing a lot of dos and don’ts so that they end up facilitating the tourists. The beach shack policy will take off next year; it is permissible under the new Coastal Zone Management Plan that is pending with the ministry of environment for approval. We followed it up with the agro tourism policy.

The current trend is to avoid using public transport and taking shorter vacays. We announced the caravan tourism policy, which will take time to gain momentum, but in a couple of years it will take off and be as popular as it is in the west; we have caravan parking bases as a part of the policy. Caravans can tie up with hotels for parking. MTDC can collaborate with any caravan operator, and resorts with open spaces can also be used for caravan parking. We are working on four-five new policies, like adventure tourism, event MICE which is a lucrative part of the tourism industry, getting more MICE events into the state.

Sustainable tourism also has been a big mission, and we are planning to make an announcement on that front soon. We want sustainable and responsible tourism; it should not only be used for revenue purposes but also for empowerment. Then there are vacation home rentals. That is the new USP for Maharashtra. Almost 8000 rooms are available, which are not part of hotels. Maharashtra is set to attract investments in a big way in the tourism sector post Covid crisis.

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