The eight Saarc countries have decided to exempt 19 categories of people from visa requirement and agreed to grant multi-entry visas for three to six months to select journalists, business persons and sportspersons without prior clearance.
The meeting of Saaarc council of ministers,
attended by external affairs minister SM Krishna, also endorsed India's proposal for setting up of a Saarc forum, comprising non-government officials to act as a pressure group for increasing regional integration.
Revisiting the Saarc Visa Exemption Scheme, the meeting approved a proposal under which visa regime could be liberalised for select groups. The Saarc consists of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives.
People from 19 other categories, including members of Parliament, diplomats and non-government people involved in Saarc projects, will get visa stickers from the respective foreign ministries exempting them from visa requirements, the sources said.
The Saarc visa stickers will ensure that their travel is not limited to any specific city and will save them from hassles like reporting to police and filling extra forms on entry.
But the issuing of the stickers would be at the discretion of the foreign ministries, they said.
They also agreed on various steps concerning the Saarc University such as early convening of the governing board meeting, which has been delayed and as a result several key decisions have been pending.
The governing board will now meet early next month, which could set in motion the appointments to the steering committee and firming up of rules for the university, the sources said.
The president of the university, established in Delhi, will also be selected from India. The government will nominate three eminent persons for the post from among them one will be chosen by the governing board.
The meeting also approved India's proposal for setting up the South Asian Forum. The steering committee set up for the purpose will meet in April.
In the field of trade, the ministers decided that SAFTA ministerial meeting will take place in Maldives in May to consider ways to enhance intra-regional commerce.