In what may be seen as a New Year’s gift to the three Northeastern states, the Government of India has decided to exclude the entire area of the states of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland from the Protected Area regime notified under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order 1958.

The exclusion is initially for a period of one year starting January 1, 2011. The said Act required foreigners to obtain a Protected Area Permit (PAP) in addition to a visa to visit certain areas in the country. Other citizens of the country also require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) for visiting those areas. However, it is easier to obtain an ILP than a PAP, which has been the reason why a lot of tourists from outside the country have been discouraged to visit such places.

The major reasons for notifying areas as protected under this Act has been for national security and to protect the culture of native people from outside influence. It may be noted that a PAP does not disallow anyone from entering the area but it only makes the visit more difficult and under state supervision.

Whether such a measure of protecting the culture is required or will work in today’s globalizing world is an issue of ongoing and separate debate altogether. The PAP process definitely discourages a lot of foreign tourists and thus affects revenue generation from the tourism sector. With the revoking of the Act will indeed boost tourism in the region and help generate employment and livelihood opportunities.

However, all foreigners visiting these states will still have to register themselves with the Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO) of the district they visit within 24 hours of their arrival. At the same time, citizens of some specified countries would continue to require prior approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) before their visit to these three states.

Indian Missions/Posts have also been authorized to issue ‘Missionary Visa’ to foreign Missionaries visiting these three states as per the extant guidelines of the Government. The decisions comes well in advance of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the ninth consecutive annual gathering of people of Indian origin to be held from January 7-9, 2011 in New Delhi. The PBD 2011 has a special focus on the northeast and the youth among the large Indian diaspora.

The move is surely a step forward by the Central Government in showing that it is willing to take tough decisions when it comes to the Northeast, and is ready to work for the development of the region. The Government and the state authorities will have to keep a strong vigilance in order to protect the biodiversity and safeguard the interest of the local people in the wake of this historic decision.

It is unfortunate that extremism is still prevalent in the some of the regions of these states which also needs to be kept under check for the tourism and now related inflow of business to initiate and flourish. Let us hope the new year comes with more gifts and blessings for Northeast region and puts it on the track of sustainable development.

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