Government of India has launched the PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive) scheme to identify and develop pilgrimage tourist destinations on the principles of high tourist visits, competitiveness and sustainability to enrich the religious tourism experience.
India is a land of numerous religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Sufism having their major pilgrimage centres in different parts of the country. Pilgrimage tourism is a form of tourism motivated partly or wholly by religious sentiments. Religion and spirituality are common motivations for travel, with major tourist destinations having developed largely as a result of their connections to sacred places, persons and events. The growth of domestic tourism largely depends on pilgrimage tourism. To tap this potential there is a need for holistic development of the selected pilgrimage destinations in cooperation with other stakeholders. In the Budget speech 2014-15, the Government of India decided to launch a National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD) with an initial provision of INR 1 crore.
The PRASAD Scheme was launched with 12 identified sites namely Ajmer (Rajasthan), Amritsar (Punjab), Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh), Dwarka (Gujarat), Gaya (Bihar), Kedarnath (Uttarakhand), Kamakhya (Assam), Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Puri (Odisha), Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and Vellankani (Tamil Nadu).
Religious tourism destinations are unlike holiday or leisure tourism destinations, which are primarily targeted at the segment with an inclination to travel and spend. In developing a religious tourism product, it is essential to build in community participation at the given destination. Further, it is not only important to provide modern amenities at the religious site but also to see as to how the visitor interacts and seeks new experiences at such places. For India, there is a need to identify core deficiencies, facilitate provision of products, services and subsequently address the issues that are important for paving the development and promotion of religious tourism.
During 2015-16, Patna (Bihar) and in 2016-17, 12 more sites were added in the scheme for development namely Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), Badrinath (Uttarakhand), Belur (West Bengal), Deoghar (Jharkhand), Guruvayur (Kerala), Hazratbal and Katra (Jammu & Kashmir), Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh), Somnath (Gujarat), Srisailam and Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Trimbakeshwar (Maharashtra).
Dr Mahesh Sharma, Minister of Tourism & Culture said, “Under PRASAD scheme, earlier, there were 13 cities but now we have selected 25 cities which have got spiritual values. Just like Vatican City or Jeddah due to religious and spiritual values, a lot of domestic and international tourists visit these towns.”
Identification of new sites for development under the PRASAD scheme is a continuous process subject to availability of resources and adherence to scheme guidelines.