After Ordinance on ‘Checking’ Entry of Outsiders, Meghalaya Govt says it Welcomes All
GUWAHATI: In what appears to be turning into a tricky issue, the Meghalaya government’s move to oppose the Centre’s bid to amend the Citizenship Act to bring in an ordinance that makes registration on entry mandatory for visitors who intend to spend more than 24 hours in the state is not moving too fast.
Facing flak and anxiety of people planning to visit the Pine city, the government came out with a clarification which said, “Meghalaya welcomes all domestic and international travellers.”
It clearly shows the nervousness of the government which is trying to enact a law on the lines of Inner Line Permit (ILP) which is now applicable in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. It may be mentioned that in 2013, the protests demanding the permit turned violent, killing four people.
Adding to the headache of the government is also Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy who seems to be toeing a different line in regard to the ordinance passed by the Meghalaya government.
Notably, chief minister Conrad Sangma is leading the fight against the contentious Citizenship Bill, which the Centre proposes to introduce soon.
In a way, to pass the ordinance about making entry registration mandatory for outsiders was a checkmate move by the Conrad Sangma-led government against the Citizenship Bill.
But the reaction of the move appears to have pushed the government onto a sticky wicket as many have termed the move as regressive. Secondly, it will badly affect the booming tourism industry in the state which now is the mainstay of the economy of the hill state after coal mining was banned.
On the other hand, pressure groups demanding for an Inner Line Permit regime in Meghalaya will continue. Mere registration is not enough, they say. Although the specifics of ordinance are yet to be worked out, it does not lay down a time limit for visitors entering the state.
Temporary Inner Line Permits, issued to tourists, are granted for a maximum of 15 days to 30 days, depending on the state they are applying to. Regular Inner Line Permits may be granted for up to six months, provided there is a sponsor who is a “bona fide indigenous resident” of the state to which the visitor desires entry.
The Inner Line Permit, which flows from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, was put in place in 1873 by the British government. It was not meant to protect vulnerable tribal communities but to exclude them.
The Inner Line purported to discourage the hill tribes from entering these commercial spaces.
Conversely, no “British subject or foreigner” could also cross the inner line without permission.
Hill communities made periodic incursions into tea gardens and other commercial areas within the inner line and pillaged them as an act of defiance.
After Independence, the Indian state stuck with the regime. The phrase “British subject” was replaced with “Indian citizens” and “excluded areas” beyond the pale of administration now became “protected areas” whose distinct identity had to be preserved.
But critics allege that the government used the Inner Line Permit for its own ends, much like the colonial administrators. For instance, the government cited the inner line protection to prevent journalists from covering the insurgencies – and alleged excesses by Indian security forces – in Mizoram and Nagaland.
But is restricting entry of visitors the panacea of all problems in a global village where distance is getting shorter by every passing day with social media penetration beyond unimaginable limits?
Sadly, the image of Meghalaya as music and tourist capital has taken a hit with many travel operators fearing that the tourist footfalls will come down heavily if the ordinance ultimately becomes a law.
Meghalaya has emerged as an important tourist destination. The booming tourism industry has also generated jobs for the locals.
But influential organisations like Khasi Students’ Union which prides itself as the protector of indigenous people of the state is of the opinion that brining in strict law to restrict the entry of outsiders is the only solution to control influx.
However, by pushing with their demands, they would hurt the booming tourism industry and the image of the state to the outside world.
Even Assam and Manipur, states where tribal communities are not the majority, have seen agitations demanding it.
The permit system has a curious history in the states of the northeast. Many of the communities which now demand it resented and actively violated it when it was first introduced.