Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Inner Line Permit to Sikkim relaxed for foreign tourists

GANGTOK, September 15: In a positive development for promotion of international tourism here, the Centre has accorded significant relaxation to the Protected Area regime in Sikkim besides decentralizing the powers to issue Protect Area Permits (PAP)/Restricted Area Permits (RAP).
Foreigners require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter the border State of Sikkim and special permits are required to visit tourism spots like Guru Dongmar or trek along Dzongri areas near the border in West Sikkim which are declared as Restricted Areas. The whole of Sikkim is covered by the Protected Area Regime under Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order of 1958 and Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963 respectively.
Chief Minister Pawan Chamling has been demanding the Centre for lifting the ILP formality for attracting more foreign tourists to Sikkim. The proposal of the State Government which has been under the consideration of the Centre has finally seen some endorsement.
In a recent communiqué with the State Government, the Ministry of Home Affairs has informed its decision to delegate additional powers to Sikkim government for the issues of PAP and RAP.
The State Government is now empowered to issue PAP/RAP to foreign tourists in group of two or above ‘with a recognized travel agent’ who would act as an escort. Earlier, the permits were given only to foreign tourists in group of four or above.
However, the existing restrictions on the visit of Rumtek Monastery and restriction on the movement of Tibetan refugees need to be enforced, the Centre said.
In another noteworthy relaxation, the Centre has also allowed the State government to issue the permits to foreign tourists initially for a period of 30 days extendable to another spell of 30 days.
Earlier, only 15 days permit used to be given for foreign tourists visiting Sikkim extendable to another 15 days following an application.
Further decentralizing the permit system, the Centre has informed the State Government of its decision to entrust power for RAP/PAP to Tourist Information Centre (TIC) at Darjeeling and Melli in South Sikkim
Before this, PAP/RAP to foreign tourists was issued only from Rangpo, Siliguri, Delhi and Kolkata.
The demand for allowing Darjeeling and Melli TICs to issue permits was a major demand of the State Government keeping in view of the importance of these two centres for tourism promotion.
Once all the above relaxations are officially notified by the State Government where formal delegation of permit powers to Melli TIC will open up South and West districts for foreign tourists.
Usually, foreign tourists have to come to Rangpo TIC for the permits and then detour back to Melli for visiting South and West Districts.
The State government has been putting pressure on the Centre for relaxation on the permit system. It had explicitly told the Centre that restrictive regime imposed by the ILP formality has discouraged many of the prospective tourists to visit Sikkim.
The relaxation as intimidated to the State by the Centre is expected to make the visit of foreign tourists comfortable and could enable them to reach the interiors of rural Sikkim where rural tourism are being promoted.