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9 May 2018

Sikkim groups seeks permits for visitors

Rajeev Ravidas, TT, May 09, 2018 Gangtok: The apolitical Nationalist Sikkim United Organisation (NSUO) on Tuesday iterated its demand for the introduction of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in the state to check the influx of people from outside, but tourism stakeholders sounded an alarm, saying this could have a negative impact on the industry.

Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha, the coordinator of the NSUO, said the introduction of ILP would put in place a system to check influx.

"It is very important to introduce ILP to prevent influx of people from outside to Sikkim. Migration is a known fact, but there has to be a system to check it," he said, while speaking at a function to observe "Samjhauta Diwas" to commemorate the signing of the tripartite treaty by India, the Chogyal of Sikkim and political parties of Sikkim on May 8, 1973.

The ILP is an official travel document issued by the Centre to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into certain areas for a limited period.

It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those states to obtain an entry permit.

At present, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram are the three states where ILP is in operation.

Tourism stakeholders in Sikkim, however, feared the introduction of any measure that would hamper the hassle-free entry of tourists to the state could have a negative impact on tourism.

"There are already restrictions in place for movement of tourists, especially foreigners, in the state. Even domestic tourists are required to take special passes to visit certain areas. Now, if ILP requires entry passes for every visitor to Sikkim, it would obviously have a negative impact. A wrong message will go across," said Gopal Chhetri, the secretary of the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TASS).

Sikkim receives almost 15 lakh tourists annually, and the government plans to double the figure in the next few years. The tourism sector was hit hard last year because of the agitation in the Darjeeling hills.

Sikkim receives a large number of visitors from the neighbouring Bengal and most of them are from Calcutta.

When contacted, K. T. Gyalsten, the spokesman of the ruling Sikkim Democratic Party, said he wouldn't want to comment without studying the provisions of ILP in detail, but said it did not appear to him to be the ultimate solution to check influx.

"The government of Sikkim is seized of the matter (influx). The government has policies and plans in place to check influx," he said.

Tourism agencies in Bengal, too, felt that ILP would hinder the growth of tourism in Sikkim. A significant number of visitors to the Himalayn state are from Bengal.

"Free movement is a must for tourists visiting any place in the world. Any restriction can only have a detrimental effect. We hope no such measure will be put in place in Sikkim," said a Siliguri-based travel operator.

The Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), which is the main opposition party in the state, and few other organisations, however, endorsed the NSUO call for the introduction of ILP.

Kunga Nima Lepcha, the acting president of SKM, said it was very important for all to raise their voices in support of the demand.

"Sikkim is seeing a massive demographic change. We are getting marginalised," he alleged.

It is estimated about two lakh migrant workers are presently working in the state. Most of them work in construction sites, pharmaceutical companies and power projects.

The population of the state, on the other hand, is about 6.50 lakh.

The Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC), too, supported the demand for the introduction of ILP. "Influx has reached a worrying stage...I request all the parties to incorporate the demand of the NSUO in their manifestoes," said Tseten Tashi Bhutia, the convenor of the SIBLAC, which is an organisation that espouses the cause of the Bhutia and Lepcha communities.

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