Monday, October 26, 2009

'No chance of facility being misused'


26 Oct,2009
The Russians are coming...
For most of us, the cold war ended in the last decade of the last  century. But for others, it seems, it’s still on. On Saturday, the Goa edition of a leading national newspaper offered us the ‘sensational’ news that, “believe it or not”, Goa was offering visas on arrival. It alleged that charter tour operators had managed to secure this dangerous privilege for clients, “especially from Russia”, with the “active connivance of immigration authorities”. For a mere $40, “at least on paper” (implying that this was supplemented by further underhand payments), it said, Russian Mafioso could gain entry to Goa and India.
Apparently, Indian Ambassador to Moscow P P Shukla had objected to this pernicious practice. But it quoted the “latest letter” from the ambassador in this regard as having been written on 15 January 2009; over 10 months ago and during the previous tourism season! This is a small storm in a tiny cup containing some very old and very stale tea.
It is not a new issue. It actually came up in January, when Ajor Ananenko, a Russian tourist visiting Goa on a Temporary Landing Permit (TLP), was caught by the Pernem police for overstaying after his TLP expired. Goa Police then questioned his entry on a TLP. The issue was thoroughly discussed at the time in Herald. We thought it was resolved, but apparently it was not so.
Visas on arrival are not the kind of security flaw they are being made out to be. Countries that count tourism as an important source of their revenue – including Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore – offer visas on arrival to tourists. With computerised databases, the possibility that terrorists or personae non grata can get into the country using this route is greatly reduced. Besides, visas on arrival are for short stays, and are rarely valid for more than 15 days or a month, while the normal visitor’s visa is valid for six months.
The Temporary Landing Permit (TLP) – the Indian version of the Visa-on-Arrival – isn’t issued to any and every Russian arriving in Goa. Before the 2008-09 season, Russian charter tourists flying into Goa came only from Moscow. However, last year, charter aircraft began flying out of other Russian cities, like Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg, none of which have Indian consulates to issue visas.
Since these towns are thousands of kilometres away from Moscow, it is completely unrealistic to expect would-be charter tourists to travel to Moscow and back just to get their Indian visas. That is why the central government allowed charter tourists from only these places entry into India on Temporary Landing Permits. By the rules, charter tourists flying in from Moscow cannot ask for and should not be granted TLPs. Only those flying in from Yekatrinburg, St Petersburg and other places without consulates are supposed to get this ‘privilege’. So far, there are no complaints that these rules are being flouted.
Unnecessarily creating controversies will hurt Goa’s tourist trade, which is already reeling from the combined onslaught of the global recession and the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike. Numbers of British tourists are likely to go down this year by a further 15 per cent, and the tourist trade is hoping to make up the shortfall with increased visitors from Russia and the Ukraine.
It is not as if any Russian can or does come in on a TLP. Between September and December last year, 4,650 TLPs were issued to Russians, while a total of 17,632 Russian tourists came into Goa during the period, making it the second largest group of tourists after the British, who numbered 27,542. This means, first, that the vast majority of Russians in Goa entered with proper visas. Second, the new system of issuing TLPs increased the number of Russian tourists by over 25 per cent.
In fact, a much bigger problem is that immigration authorities in Goa tend to forget about tourists once they get in, whether with valid visas or TLPs. All records are now computerise

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