Japanese loan to give facelift to Buddhist Centres in India

by R C Rajamani, the Asian Tribune, April 11, 2005

New Delhi, India -- In a splendid show of Asian solidarity in the areas of economic and cultural cooperation, Japan has extended India a loan of Yen 1344.66 million that will, among other things, finance a project to give a facelift to neglected and poorly maintained world-famous Buddhist Centres in Uttar Pradesh (North India).

These sites include the most sacred Sarnath where Buddha preached his maiden sermon. The other sites are Kushinagar where the Buddha entered Nirvana, Shravasti where the famed Jetavana Monastery is located and Varanasi. These Buddhist sites form part of a tourism and pilgrimage route known as the Buddhist Circuit.

The Buddhist-Circuit financing is part of an omnibus loan of Yen 1344.66 million (Rs.56 Billion) under the Japanese ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) to India for eight economic development and environment conservation projects. These include the Ganga River Action Plan in Varanasi, Delhi Metro Rail and Karanpura Super Thermal Power Plant in Jharkahand.

The loan agreement, singed recently in Tokyo by the Governor of Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) Kyosuke Shinozawa, and a senior Indian Embassy official, would make available low interest (0.75 per cent to 1.3 per cent) developmental assistance during India?s fiscal year 2005-2006 to the projects. The repayment period for the projects is 15-40 years with a grace period of 5-10 years. JBIC is the official organization in charge of Japan?s overseas economic cooperation operations.

The Uttar-Pradesh specific Yen loan aims at effective exploitation of tourist potential and promoting regional industries through improved tourism-related infrastructure and capabilities along the Buddhist Circuit. The project would contribute to the regional development conducive to the employment creation and poverty reduction in the State.

In a previous project, the Tourism Infrastructure Development Project (loan contract signed in December 1988, for 9.244 billion yen), development emphasis was placed on the southern part of the Circuit, an area that also happens to be close to Varanasi, the holiest city of the Hindu religion, and tourist numbers have increased. The northern part of the Circuit, which includes Kushinagar and Shravasti, was, however, omitted from that development effort, and visitor numbers have remained limited.

The objectives of this project are to build tourism infrastructure in the Buddhist Circuit of Uttar Pradesh state, to promote preservation of heritage sites and tourism, in order to promote development of the tourism industry, revitalize the local economy, and contribute to reduction of poverty. The project will develop roads, power supplies, water supplies, drainage systems, and other basic infrastructure, and will also provide tourism information, promote sales of local products, and develop visitor centers (Road Stations) where tourists can relax. In addition to construction of facilities, the project will also implement programs that use activities to improve local awareness of tourism and preservation of heritage sites. The project organizers also plan to host a Buddhist international conference.

Uttar Pradesh, with a population of about 166 million people, is India?s largest state in demographic terms and is also one of the poorest states. At the same time, however, the state is intimately linked to the life of the Buddha, being home to four out of the eight renowned Buddhist sites. Apart from the major highway routes, the roads in UP are poorly maintained and travel by car rarely reaches speeds of more than 30 kilometers per hour. In addition, drainage infrastructure is so poor that the heritage sites and the surrounding villages are subjected to flooding every rainy season.

In the northern part of the Buddhist Circuit, which happens to overlay the poorest parts of Uttar Pradesh, agriculture is the main industry. The burgeoning population, however, has led to excessive partitioning of land, with the result that agricultural production per person cannot go much higher, and development of non-agricultural industries is an important local issue.

Under such circumstances, the Yen loan for the tourism resource of the Buddhist heritage in the northern part of the Circuit is most timely and will be used to take the much needed measures to vitalize the local economy and to reduce poverty.

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