The ministry of tourism has launched the infrastructural development project of the Buddhist circuit as India’s first transnational tourist circuit. This effort will promote tourism in India as well as Nepal and Sri Lanka through the Swadesh Darshan scheme, a Rs 100 crore initiative to ignite PPP for infrastructural development of pilgrimage routes. Currently, the Buddhist circuit focus includes Bodh Gaya, Vaishali, Rajgir and Kushinagar (in Bihar), Sarnath, and Sravasti (in Uttar Pradesh) and Kapilavastu and Lumbini (in Nepal). Swadesh Darshan is intrinsically linked to Incredible India 2.0 campaign. This is set to revitalise the government’s campaign to promote India as a preferred tourist destination for global audiences, with its launch on the World Tourism Day on September 27, 2017. Mahesh Sharma, the tourism and culture minister, aptly summarised what we need by pointing out that it is “surprising that while Buddhism originated in India and seven of the eight main Buddhist pilgrimage sites are in India, our country gets not even 1% of Buddhist pilgrims in the world. Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia and Thailand get a major chunk of Buddhism-related tourists while India lags behind, mostly due to lack of infrastructure and awareness. We are going to offer world-class facilities and lure many of these tourists to India, which will also add tremendously to revenue and employment generation.”
The World Bank’s pro-poor tourism development project, to improve livelihoods and create sustainable opportunities, can be seen as the first significant step towards meaningful development along the Buddhist circuit. An amount of Rs 1,800 crore has been sanctioned by the World Bank for this initiative. India is at the cusp of a unique opportunity to develop a one-of-a-kind niche tourism offering, which can help address the issues of our post-industrialised world. The guiding principles of Buddhism lie in the human experience which interact with the world around us. ‘Karma’, one of the central themes of Indic philosophies, is derived from the Sanskrit word for action and prompts individuals to assess their patterns of consumption and behaviour, in order to develop newer models of consumption. These can be rooted in a new form of development that can be termed as Buddhist Inspired Sustainable Economies (BISE). This model derives its economics from the Buddhist philosophies of karma, dana, the middle way, the theory of causation ‘Pratityasamutpada’ and the eightfold path. These philosophies call for the need to modify levels and nature of consumption, accept long-term interdependence of consumption and decision making, understand the consequences of alternate consumption patterns, and finally the implementation of accurate measures of human well-being. In fact, at YES Bank, we are probing the validity of BISE through mind-share with the government at both central and state levels, and private players who are working on developing the Buddhist circuit. We have come to understand, with funds being released via different initiatives, that both government and private entities are actualising a unified and sustainable path towards the development of the Buddhist circuit. This will put India on the global stage as a major player in the tourism industry.
An example of a similar effort is found in Spain, which has the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Camino de Santiago—478 miles of Catholic pilgrimage that ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, the supposed final resting place of James the Apostle. This route sees over 200,000 pilgrims per year. Also, the Japanese have the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, an extensive Buddhist pilgrimage that spans over 750 miles and is colloquially called ‘The Way of the 88 Temples’. Similarly, BISE can become the new way of leading experiential tourism in the country that is considered the motherland of ancient philosophies. This model can be successful due to its emphasis on human resources becoming the central ‘factor of production’ that focuses on services that directly contribute to sustained life satisfaction for the populace and facilitate minimisation of adverse impact on natural capital. The adoption of triple bottom line approaches by industry and government, the growth of ‘green consumerism’, and the increased plausibility and readiness to act on critical natural resource scarcity issues all indicate that jobs can be readily transferred to new areas of focus. Sustainable economies can induce a shift towards production of minimum intervention goods and services as a response to changes in the nature and level of demand. Further, it provides ready guidelines for the promotion of informed and ethical decisions by individuals following no-harm principles in their roles as producers. And finally, its prescriptions give strong support for research and eco-efficiency and reduced pressures on the natural environment. It also propagates investment decisions by households which believe in adopting sustainable practices. We believe BISE will provide sufficient output and appropriate livelihood activity to promote economic well-being of our citizens. It is a formidable tool to engage with the world’s future economic and environmental challenges. As one of the oldest civilisations of the world, India’s rich cultural landscape can be the guiding light for a sustainable planet.