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Ford plans `religious tourism project' in Bengal — Vedic planetarium in Mayapur on cards

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Mr Alfred B. Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford (founder of Ford Motor), and Trustee member of Ford Motor Company, being blessed by a priest at Sri Mahalaxmi temple along with his Bengali wife Ms Sharmila Ford (behind Mr Ford), in Kolkata on Friday. Mr Sanjiv Goenka, Vice-Chairman, RPG group, is on the left. Mr Ford is on a visit here to meet with heads of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) to give shape and direction to the Rs 600-crore Mayapur Development project for showcasing West Bengal as a premier global tourist destination. - Parth Sanyal

Kolkata , Feb. 20

MR Alfred Brush Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford and Senior Trustee of Ford Motor Company Fund, today said a "religious tourism project" would be set up at Mayapur in Nadia district, 140 km from Kolkata.

Mayapur houses the world-famous ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple and attracts lakhs of religious tourists every year.

Although Mr Ford refrained from indicating the likely investment in the proposed tourism project, sources associated with ISKCON said it might be around Rs 600 crore. The funding pattern of the project is yet to be firmed up.

Completion of the project would lead to several things, including spin-off benefits for the local economy, improvement in healthcare and education facilities, availability of micro credit to the people, etc. The idea is to ensure that tourist arrivals in Mayapur goes up by "1,000 per cent by 2020".

Mr Ford, who was accompanied by his Indian born wife, Ms Sharmila Ford, presented the highlights of the proposed project during an interactive session with members of the Confederation of India Industry (Eastern Region) here this evening.

Earlier today, he met the West Bengal Finance Minister, Dr Asim Dasgupta, and expressed a desire to develop Mayapur as a preferred destination of religious tourists. Stating that 80 per cent of the domestic tourism in India was religious tourism, Mr Ford said two-third of this traffic was concentrated in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. With proper infrastructure in place, Mayapur could figure among the top-20 tourist destinations in India.

A "vedic planetarium" would be built at Mayapur as part of the tourism project. It would also have a Mayapur Centre of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. The Ganges would be used as a thoroughfare for ferrying tourists from Sundarbans to Mayapur via Dakshineswar (a place en route which houses the famous Kali temple built by Rani Rashmoni in 18th century Bengal.)

Mr Ford said Mr Pada Sevam, a fellow member of the ISKCON fraternity and an alumni of the Prince Charles School of Architecture, UK, would design the vedic planetarium. He hoped work on the project would begin by 2005, subject, however, to the availability of the required infrastructural support at Mayapur.

West Bengal, he pointed out, had great potential to emerge as a preferred tourist destination. However, many opportunities are "lost" owing to lack of appropriate infrastructure.

"West Bengal offers a lot of opportunities for business. The State Government is very business-friendly. However, West Bengal is not telling its story very well to the rest of the world. It needs to market itself better," Mr Ford said and added that he would speak about the potential here to IT companies in the US.

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Ford plans `religious tourism project' in Bengal — Vedic planetarium in Mayapur on cards

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