Manipur State Govt firmly believes that promoting tourism into Manipur can bring about socio-economic development of the state. The Central Govt (esp. Ministry of tourism, and North Eastern Council under Ministry of Development of North Eastern Regions) has been also supporting the State Govt by providing huge funding assistance for tourism related projects. Main activity on this regard is to organise annual tourism festival titled ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ in the month of November (21-30).
The expenditure for 2014 event was about Rs 2.5-3.0 crores and the cost of 2015 event may be Rs. 3.0-5.0 crores. Since large sum of public money (collected through taxes) has been spent for conducting this festival by the State Govt, it is appropriate to ask and rather be made a mandatory task for State Govt to evaluate economic appraisal of the festival project along with a social impact analysis. Such an evaluation report must be produced by the State Govt as ‘white paper’ periodically to access ‘pros and cons / impact’ of every Manipur Sangai Festival being conducted.
Any course of discussion on ‘whether current format of the festival is appropriate and what programs should be added/removed, or there is another possible way of conducting the festival in an entirely different approach’ ought to be guided by the basic principle that “Manipur Sangai Festival has been devised to promote Manipur globally for its tourism potentials and by doing so, bring about socio-economic development to the local population within Manipur State”. Also, we need to be clear with our adopted strategy on this festival – ‘Is the spending on the Manipur Sangai Festival an investment or just mere expenditure; i.e. are we creating a sustainable capacity building system for the local economy, or are we just enjoying ourselves by spending huge sum of money for few days in the name of tourism promotion?’. This article rather focuses on an alternative way of conducting the festival than being a critic to the current festival format.
There is an analogy topic that we can correlate to: ‘how Olympic Games are conducted in various countries on rotation, or how National Games are conducted in various states of India on rotation’. The host country for Olympic Games (or the host state for National Games in India) aims to make the maximum benefits from having the sports event in their country (or their state, in case of National Games) through creating new infrastructures (e.g. roads, bridges, markets, houses, water/electricity/gas supply facilities), new engagement frameworks (e.g. coordination among various ministries of the Govt for public order and utility services supply, involving public and private organizations, including students and staffs from schools/universities, sharing public support tasks with local municipal bodies), and new promotional means (e.g. extensive marketing to increase visits by tourists during the sports event and also later on for the following months/years). Thus, there are always some diverse options in every planning on where/how to spend a huge sum of money for executing a big event. Our focus for Manipur Sangai Festival also ought to think from this perspective of ‘How best is the way to spend the allocated budget for the festival (e.g. Rs. 5 Crores) into what activities for short term and long term gains to people and land of Manipur?’
The name ‘Sangai’ has been chosen to represent the annual Manipur tourism festival by the State Govt; maybe because this title has global appeal due to the relevance of endangered ‘Sangai’ species to global audience. How about we try to imagine this scenario for the sake of analysis – What if ‘we choose to conduct this Manipur tourism festival with special focus around the villages/towns where this special deer is located (i.e. those around Keibul Lamjao National Park and Loktak Lake)’!
Often, there is this query of ‘Should development come first, or should security (i.e. better law and order) come first before anything else (including tourism activities)?’ In addition to just conducting a tourism festival to promote tourism potential, Manipur State Govt has the duty to develop infrastructure and enhance living standard of villages/towns within Manipur. So, how about hitting two targets with just one arrow? – By planning the Manipur Sangai Festival around villages/towns of Keibul Lamjao and Loktak Lake; such as, by having more event venues, involving local people/organisations, delegating tasks to staffs at Govt offices (schools/colleges and other Govt departments) and administrative officials at various sub-divisions/gram-panchayats, and a series of well-created programs in those villages/towns.
The tourism festival ought to be more of people’s event rather than just being an event for ministers and higher officials of the State Govt. There is no ‘actual high risks of security’ scenario for having tourism programs and event venues in villages/towns around Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao, and rather it may be just a myth that there is no security outside the state capital; or, maybe it is just a sign of being laziness for ministers and higher officials of the State Govt to visit places outside the Imphal Municipal Council areas. Since the ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ is for promoting tourism potentials of the whole state, tourism events can be still conducted at those already chosen venues of the Imphal Municipal areas; yet the central focus can be given to “villages/towns around Sangai’s home”. Such an approach will facilitate in (1) creating new businesses by private entrepreneurs in these villages/towns, (2) providing better roads and modern utility services (electricity, water, medical) which have been neglected for years, (3) exchanging of ideas and modern knowhow between people of city and villages/towns. In due course of time, we can see villages/towns (such as Thanga, Ithing, Karang, Moirang, Moirang Khunou, Kairenphabi, Kumbi, Ithai, Wangu, Nongmaikhong, Khordak, Tera Khunou, Laphupat, Phoubachao, Komlakhong, Uchiwa, Mayang Imphal, Toubul, Kwashiphai, Nachou, Bishenpur, Oinam, Nambol, Yaingangpokpi, Wangoi, Tentha, Wabagai, Hiyanglam, Ningthoukhong) developing in a faster pace on par with Imphal Municipal areas.
Various independent events being conducted in Manipur till date can be included as special programs to the list of programs in the ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ for the benefit of local people of villages/towns around Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao (rather than facilitating profit earnings to few individuals who owns large restaurants or hotels or tour operators); such as Fish sales festival, Pineapple sales festival, Handicraft/Handloom product sales festival, sports festival, Save Loktak event, Save Sangai Event, Food festival. Tour routes to enjoy such variety of mini-festival events during the ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ can be created through these villages/towns for local tourists as well as national and international tourists. Various developmental schemes of the State Govt and Central Govt can be redirected towards organizing ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ in these villages/towns under advanced and proper coordinated planning; such as (1) development of roads and cleanliness drive by villagers/NGOs through NREGA (Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act), (2) various development funds under Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, and Department of MAHUD (Municipal Administration, Housing & Urban Development), (3) enterprise support funds from central ministry of MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) and Department of Commerce & Industry, (4) promotion of local culture under Department of Art and Culture, (5) developing of local agribusinesses under Department of Agriculture, and Department of Fisheries, (6) preserving ecology and biodiversity under Department of Forest and Environment.
If we conduct ‘Manipur Sangai Festival’ in such an approach, percentage of having more inclusive participation from public (individuals and organisations) may be higher. Benefits out of the annual tourism festival are likely to be more sustainable, and a long lasting social impact may be delivered to the local population and land within Manipur state. Thus, we need to explore other ways of conducting Tourism festivals that make the best usage of available financial and manpower resources.
About the Author:
Shanjoy Mairembam (BEng, MBA) is a Business Strategy Consultant based at Leicester (UK). He supports mentoring of young entrepreneurs in ‘conceptualization of ideas into business case’, and offers role of a ‘Business Doctor’ to local NGOs/SMEs in Manipur.