Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh back Centre’s move to relax permits for foreign tourists
Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, which are out of bounds for foreign tourist without a special permit, have expressed their support for a move by the Centre to relax the system to boost tourism in the region.
“It’s not possible to completely waive off the present system of granting permits to foreign tourists. However, to promote tourism in the state, I am in favour of not only relaxing the terms of the permit but also extending its scope,” Arunachal Pradesh’s chief minister Pema Khandu said in an interview with the Hindustan Times.
SC Gupta, Sikkim’s additional chief secretary and home secretary, echoed the view.
“There is no doubt that easing of the restrictions will promote tourism and benefit the state. However, since it’s a sensitive matter, deliberations among all stakeholders to define the terms and condition of such a relaxation is required,” Gupta said.
Both the state governments said they will convey the views in this regard to the Centre in the coming few days.
Foreign tourists need to obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) and Restricted Area Permit (RAP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim due to security reasons. Indian tourists also need to get an Inner Land Permit (ILP) to go to these two states.
The Union ministry of tourism recently moved a proposal to the home ministry to find out ways to open the northeast states to promote their culture and tourism. The home ministry consulted the ministry of defence as both Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are border states.
While Arunachal Pradesh shares its boundary with China and Bhutan, Sikkim is surrounded from three sides by three countries Bhutan, China and Nepal.
On May 17, senior officials from the three ministries and the Intelligence Bureau met under the chairmanship of the special secretary of the department of border management and unanimously agreed to open these areas for tourists.
Union tourism minister KJ Alphons confirmed it soon after the meeting and while speaking to HT said that a formal announcement would come only after consultation with the state governments involved.
Exploring the various possibilities, Khandu says that one of the suggestions would be either extend the days for renewal of the permit or reduce the permit fee.
“Another relaxation would be to allow foreign tourists to visit those areas which they can’t access even after obtaining tour permits. For instance, areas like Ki Gompa in Tawang district are great tourist destinations but they are off limit for foreign tourists. We can bring them in the ambit of the permit,” he added.
Gupta said that earlier the state government had itself written to the Centre to relax permit conditions.
“Now, we have received a proposal from the Centre to completely remove the permit conditions in certain areas. We are looking at this proposal and yet to formulate our views,” said Gupta.
“We are hoping that by the first week of June we would be able to crystalise our views,” he added.
Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, agreed that any move to relax or extend the scope of the permit will be a boon for the tourism sector.
“I attended a travel congress on May 25 in Itanagar where the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, chief minister of AP, Pema Khandu, and a lot of tourist associations deliberated on the permit issue, among other things. There was a common consensus among all stakeholders to take some measures to minimise the permit restrictions,” Sarkar said.
The home ministry relaxed the six-decade-old Protected Area Permit regime from Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur for five years from April 1 to allow foreign tourists, except those from Pakistan, China and Afghanistan, to visit some of the most pristine locations in these states.
All areas falling between the Inner line and the International Border of some states were declared as protected areas under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958.
The protected areas currently include whole of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, besides parts of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. Some parts of Sikkim fall under the protected area regime while others under the restricted area.