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Gujarat requests Indian Airlines to start more flights to Bhuj 

Jyotsna Bhatnagar  
Ahmedabad, Aug 19: What do Sanjay Leela Bhansali's mega hit, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, J P Dutta's Refugee and Aamir Khan's forthcoming extravaganza, Lagaan, have in common? No prizes for guessing this one, it's the exotic and vibrant locales of Kutch. And thanks to Bollywood, the world has woken up to the charms of this hitherto neglected area of Gujarat.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Gujarat government has requested Indian Airlines (IA) to commence direct flights from Delhi to Bhuj, one of the main cities in the Kutch area. At present, the Bhuj airport, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Indian Air Force, only operates a flight to Mumbai. In other words, the Kutch area is not even connected to major cities within the state, such as Ahmedabad and Vadodara, by air. "If anyone from the state wants to visit Kutch, the only ways of doing so are rail and road," said a senior state government official. There was a Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Bhuj hopping flight earlier, but it was discontinued a few years ago by IA on the grounds that there was not enough traffic on the route to merit a stopover at Ahmedabad, sources revealed.

However now, with traffic to the area increasing, the state government is lobbying hard to commence flights from Delhi to Bhuj and connect Ahmedabad to the area by air. "We are also seeking permission to commence charter flights to Bhuj similar to those that are being operated to other tourist destinations, like Agra, Khajuraho and Varanasi," the state government official said. He added that the runway of the Bhuj airport was adequate for charter flights even in its present form. In addition, the state government is also in the process of making a civil terminal at the Bhuj airport.

Officials of the state tourism department are buoyed by the current spate of investments in the state, which have surpassed all expectations. Against an investment target of Rs 800 crore, there are projects worth Rs 1,500 crore in the pipeline already, for which temporary registration certificates have been issued. These certificates, department sources said, are only issued after some groundwork on the proposed project has been done, such as acquisition of land. "Despite this, we peg the rejection rate at 10 per cent, which still leaves us with around Rs 1,350 crore worth of investment," said a source.

Of the various investment zones the state has been divided into, the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar zone is by far the leading preferred investment zone. Surveys also show that the North Gujarat corridor is developing very well since foreign tourists in particular prefer to traverse the Rajasthan-Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh circuit by road.

Also, among the various tourist facilities being planned in Gujarat, entertainment complexes appear to be the most preferred form of investment, followed by hotel projects. Surprisingly, the fact that Gujarat is a dry state does not seem to be dampening the spirits of those visiting it, thanks to some clever marketing efforts by the state tourism department, which is using Gujarat's dry state status cleverly as a USP .

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