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Bhutan throws up pay wall amid surge of Indian tourists

Flood of ‘unregulated’ tourists has prompted measures from pristine Himalayan destination

Shangri-La worried: Bhutan promoted a brand of tourism that brought in only a few willing to pay well. Getty ImagesChris Jackson

For centuries, parents of newborn children in the Thimphu valley have visited the Changangkha Lhakhang (temple) that rises above the Bhutanese capital, bringing their babies as young as four or five days old to be blessed by its deity.

But a surge of tourist inflows into Bhutan this year has left parents and pilgrims jostling for space in the temple’s small inner sanctum.

The crowds have sparked a major debate across the country that could mean tougher regulations for tourists from the region, especially India.

“It was suffocating for the mothers who were trying to get blessings for their children,” explains a guard outside the temple, “They could barely say their prayers and they were very upset,” he added.

On June 7, the Tourism Council announced it was shutting the temple to all tourists for the three months, or peak season. The notice, printed on a board outside the temple, says the closure was in the “interest of the safety of the tourists”, and was done so as to allow “important religious events” to be conducted inside.

Entrance fees

When the doors of Changangkha Lhakhang re-open to tourists, they will be charged 300 Ngultrums (₹300) as entrance fees, the government has decided.

Other monasteries and temples in the country, known for its deep Buddhist religiosity, are quickly following suit.

The measures are part of an entire list being compiled by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in response to the large numbers of “unregulated” tourists now making a beeline for the Himalayan Kingdom, once called the “Last Shangri-La” for its remoteness and pristine environment.

For decades, Bhutan’s government promoted an exclusive brand of “high value, low volume/ impact” tourism, that brought in only a few tourists willing to pay well for luxury hotel brands, rather than ‘backpackers’ and tourists looking for a cheap holiday.

Doctors stir: Home Ministry sends advisory to West Bengal

Strike enters sixth day; Mamata says all demands accepted

Seeking succour: A patient being brought for treatment during the strike at a hospital in Kolkata on Saturday. PTIPTI

As the stand-off between the West Bengal government and the junior doctors of the State-run hospitals continued for the sixth consecutive day on Saturday, the Union Home Ministry sought an urgent report from the State government on the strike and issued an advisory on the issue.

“This Ministry is in receipt of a number of representations from doctors and medical associations from different parts of country for their security in view of the ongoing strike by doctors in West Bengal. It is requested that a detailed report be sent urgently on the ongoing strike by the doctors,” it said. Though Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed her government had accepted “all demands of the protesting doctors”, the protesting junior doctors persisted with their demand that the Chief Minister visit the Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital (NRSMCH).

Want to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024, says PM

At NITI Aayog meet, he sets up agri task force and asks States to boost growth

Each State must aim to at least double its economy if the country is to achieve the target of a $5 trillion economy by 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Chief Ministers gathered for the NITI Aayog’s fifth Governing Council meeting on Saturday.

Responding to concerns from the States, he announced the setting up of a high-level task force on structural reforms in the farm sector, as well as a potential revision of disaster relief fund norms.

“The goal to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024 is challenging, but can surely be achieved,” said Mr. Modi, according to an official statement. For this, the States should recognise their core competence and aim to increase their economy by 2 to 2.5 times, working towards raising GDP targets right from the district level, he said. He added that the common man’s purchasing power would increase as a result. He urged the States to focus on their potential to grow exports.

The meeting was attended by the Chief Ministers of all States barring four — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, Telangana, according to NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar.

To transform the agri-economy, Mr. Modi said the high-powered committee for agriculture reforms “would include some Chief Ministers and take a holistic approach to the subject.”

Encephalitis toll in Bihar mounts to 69

Most of the victims are aged between one and seven

Testing times: Children showing symptoms of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome being treated at a hospital. PTI

The death toll among children suffering from suspected Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur rose to 69 on Saturday, with most of the victims aged between one and seven.

“The death toll today [Saturday] of children has gone up to 69 — 58 at government hospital, SKMCH, and 11 at privately owned Kejriwal hospital,” Muzaffarpur civil surgeon Shailesh Prasad Singh told The Hindu over phone.

“We’re making all efforts to tackle the situation with all our infrastructure and additional support… sick children continue to come in at the hospital and total 110 children are currently admitted at the SKMCH,” Dr. Singh added.

“It has been a critical moment for all and the district administration is quite alert to tackle the situation,” asserted Muzaffarpur District Magistrate Alok Ranjan Ghosh. “There are enough ambulances for the convenience of patients and the awareness campaign about AES too has been launched in a big way in the district,” he added.

On Wednesday, a central team of doctors had visited the hospital to monitor the situation and submitted its report to the director general, health services, on Friday. A person privy to the report, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu that the team had pointed out several inadequacies at the SKMCH in Muzaffarpur, including the fact that available resources were not being “optimally utilised” at the hospital.

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