Finance Minister proposes Special Tourism Zones

Presenting the Union Budget of India for 2017-18, Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley has proposed setting up of Five Special Tourism Zones (STZs) to boost private investment in the tourism sector in the country. The Finance Minister also proposed Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with funding from both the government and the private sector to trigger investment into the STZs.

Saying that Tourism sector is a major employment generator with multiplier effect, the Finance Minister also mentioned that next level of Incredible India brand marketing campaign, Incredible India 2.0, will be unleashed in the international market. Two new AIIMS have been announced in Jharkhand and Gujarat which will in turn boost medical tourism too. Head Post Office to address all passport related grievances now.

The Ministry of Railways will launch Tourism and Pilgrim specific trains. Jaitley highlighted that 3500 kms of railway track will be commissioned in 2017-18. Rs 2000 Cr were also announced for coastal road connectivity - essentially to enhance connectivity to ports and coastal villages.

As part of cleaning up the railway system, all railway coaches will be fitted with bio-toilets by 2019. Jaitley also proposed to a scheme to energise 7,000 railway stations with solar power.

In order to help passengers to raise complaints about rail coaches, Jaitley also proposed a digital platform ‘Coach Mitra’. Also, 500 railway stations will be made barrier-free. In order to encourage online railway ticket booking, Finance Minister proposed to withdraw Service Tax for booking tickets through IRCTC platform and develop a competitive reservation system for end passengers at large. He also stated that cashless rail reservations are up by 10% to 68% post demonetization.

The Finance Minister proposed to synergise investments in the Transport sector comprising Civil Aviation, Railways, Road Transport and Waterways. In order to improve the passenger safety in Railways, the Finance Minister proposed a Railway Safety Fund with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over the next five years. This will be raised with a seed by the government and other sources by the Railways.

In the Civil Aviation, the Finance Minister proposed privatization of select airports in Tier-II cities as well as monetization of spare land available with Airport Authority of India (AAI) by amending the AAI Act. Service Tax remains unchanged.