Centre plans to open up restricted Northeast areas for foreign tourists
The ministries of home, defence and tourism have agreed, in principle, to open up restricted areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim for foreign tourists, tourism minister KJ Alphons said. A formal announcement to this effect will come only after consultation with the state governments involved that need to sign off on the plan.
On May 17, senior officials from the three ministries and the Intelligence Bureau met under the chairmanship of special secretary, Border Management, and unanimously agreed to open these areas for tourists.
At present, Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of Sikkim have restrictions on access and free movement of foreign tourists by way of permits such as Protected Areas Permit (PAP) and Restricted Areas Permit (RAP).
“The only consideration before taking a final decision is to assess security concerns and tourism potential in consultation with the respective state governments,” said Alphons, arguing that opening these areas will provide a huge boost to tourism in India.
He added: “The removal of restrictions in these areas is a security-sensitive issue. So a common consensus is to involve state governments for setting up some kind of robust mechanism or let’s say a standard operating procedure so that they can monitor the entry, exit and movement of foreign tourists.”
The ministry of tourism has for long demanded the opening up of restricted areas in these states. It first got the home ministry’s nod to do so on March 22, 2018 in the first meeting of senior government officials of the concerned ministries.
“If this exercise is successful in North-Eastern states, we will consider opening up of (similar restricted) border areas in other states such as Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh,” said Alphons.
Tourism industry executives have hailed the government’s initiative and cited the examples of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland which have witnessed a surge in foreign tourist influx after the home ministry lifted restrictions on January 1, 2011.
SK Mishra, former tourism secretary, said: “In principle, I am in favour of the government’s decision to open up Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim for tourism, but subject to security conditions. I think it’s also a sound decision to take the state governments’ view before arriving at a final decision.”