Tourism Proposal Hits Security Hurdle
By Cithara Paul | Published: 01st December 2013 07:56 AM |
One section of the Manmohan Singh Government thinks asking the religion of an inbound tourist amounts to violation of secularism while the other, thinks it is important from the point of view of the national security.
The question on religion has become an issue within the government as the Tourism Ministry wants that column in visa applications concerning religion to be removed. It argues that it will make the visa application process “more tourist-friendly”.
“Our ministry had been persistently demanding the simplification of visa forms to make it more tourist friendly. Deletion of unnecessary columns would only simplify the procedure and the religion column was one such.
“Moreover, asking one’s religion or race does not suit our secular character,” said a Tourism Ministry official.
According to the official, the matter was taken up recently at a Planning Commission meeting held earlier last month to discuss ways to promote tourism in India. The meeting was attended by representatives from all ministries concerned including Planning Commission, Tourism Ministry, MEA and the Home Ministry. All had agreed to the proposal.
“Everyone had agreed that asking the religion of a visitor does not suit the secular character of the country especially when orthodox religious countries in the Gulf do not ask for a visitor’s religion,” the official said.
He said it was decided in the meeting that the Home Ministry would give the final assent “very soon” as the changes were to be notified before the onset of the tourist season (which begins in India in November).
However, the secular proposal has hit a roadblock. “The tourist season has already begun and the notification is not happening any time soon. We are yet to receive any formal reply from the Home Ministry regarding this,” said the official.
It is learnt that the proposal hit a dead-end as the office of the National Security Advisor (NSA) expressed certain reservations regarding the matter.
“The NSA is not against removing the religion column. But it is of the view that any further relaxations in visa applications must be taken up only after proper coordination among various security agencies within and outside the country,’’ said a source within the government.
The NSA office had recently opposed the issue of providing tourist visa-on-arrival to China after the Tourism Ministry had proposed that steps be taken to relax the visa regime for China which is the biggest tourism market in the world.
The NSA insisted that the matter should be taken up bilaterally and decided on the basis of reciprocity. Once the NSA put its foot down, the Home Ministry has slowed down on the issue.