Shillong: Meghalaya government announcing that tourists and other visitors would need to go through a mandatory registration process has sparked a debate over the move’s exclusivity and rigidity.
About a fortnight back, the state cabinet approved the amendment of Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act, 2016, which now makes it mandatory for visitors to make online registration, before visiting the state.
The move looks potentially threatening for the tourism sector. Concerns have already been raised by RG Lyngdoh, the founding chairman of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum.
In 2017, 9.89 lakh domestic and 12,051 foreign tourists visited Meghalaya, higher than most of the northeastern states. At present, there is no restriction on the movement of tourists. But a section of the transporters feels the number of tourists will be substantially hit if the registration rule is implemented.
eNewsroom when contacted Conrad Sangma, Chief Minister of Meghalaya, he said, “Absolutely, it has to be sent to the governor. We are trying to do it (implement) at the earliest. We have to do multiple things apart from the ordinance. We also have to work on this software and a strong technology platform so that minimum inconvenience is caused to people visiting the state.”
The chief minister further said, “We will try to finish as early as possible but the starting point was the cabinet clearing it and now it has started and we will implement it as soon as possible.”
Simple process, nothing to fear?
He then went on to explain the idea behind taking such a stand. “The whole idea and whole purpose is to ensure that people entering the state as well as the people here in the state are safe. It is to ensure that we have all the information about people entering the state. The database will be interconnected. We will have the information from the hotel which will be interconnected with the database,” he explained. According to him, the software, which will be used for this purpose will be a simple one.
According to the CM, registration has to be done once, either before or after entering the hotel. And the entire registration procedure would take only 20 seconds. “A QR code will come in 20 seconds of one registering. For people who are working with private companies in the state just have to inform us (the government), they are working here. It will again be a simple process. This is not meant to cause inconvenience. Entry and exit points will have facilitation centres for people who do not use smartphones. Also, there will be scanning of QR code and if you don’t do there you can do it in the hotel.”
Tourism sector feels the heat
However, those in the tourism industry are sceptical of this scheme. “The new rule is the topic of discussion among us these days. The tourist flow in states like Arunachal, Aizawl or Nagaland is much lower than that in Meghalaya. With this registration thing, many will be discouraged to visit the state and this will hamper our business,” says a local tourist cab driver in his thirties. He drives his car and shuttles between Guwahati and Shillong.
His apprehension is shared by a Shillong city taxi driver who feels it is a dichotomy in the part of the state government that is trying to leverage tourism. The chief minister, Conrad Sangma, led a delegation to Bangladesh to have talks on tourism.
The Shillong Times, a local newspaper, recently quoted RG Lyngdoh as saying, “Firstly, it is not spelt out how the government will determine whether a visitor wants to stay for 24 hours or longer. Secondly, the infrastructure required to carry out the exercise should have been put in place and tested before the announcement was made.”
Some associated with the tourism sector in the state feel the announcement was made to appease the pressure groups, like the Khasi Students’ Union, which have been demanding inner line permit and stringent rules to put a check on migration.
Is a permit needed?
“It’s unfortunate that the states of this country are becoming more and more exclusive instead of being more inclusive. One of the most beautiful things about India is you can experience a lot of variety without visas. Some northeastern states have had these permits in the past but it was good to see Meghalaya didn’t have one. Why tourists need this permit is beyond me. The government could have collaborated with hotels if they wanted whereabouts of tourists. Almost everything is online these days. The state government can have everything on its fingertips. As a tourist I feel this procedure is not needed,” says Pratik, who visited Shillong two years ago.
It is already mandatory for hotels, guest houses and homestays in Shillong to submit details of tourists staying with them.
Another tourist, Subroto Maitra, said he loved Shillong and the people’s hospitality there and wanted to come back to the place. “But if registration and all start, then I think I will avoid a second visit. I avoid coming to the North East because of this. Shillong was the only place where you could visit without hassles,” said Maitra.
Another setback for business
After a ban on mining coal, the state’s revenue has suffered tremendously and tourism has become the only big source of income for the state exchequer. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh has called for making the amended Act public followed by a debate involving civil society members.
But there are many who support the move.
“While debating on the issue, one has to keep in mind that the state belongs to them and if the people there are happy with the move and they feel secured then what’s the problem in implementing it. As far as tourists are concerned, those who want to go will go. Our tribal communities are small and they should be protected,” said Arnab, a Kolkata-based media person. He is among those who are supporting the move.
Citing an example of Italy, Arnab said, “Italy has a lot of rules for tourists, but does it mean people are not visiting Italy?”
“Being too inclusive may dilute tribal identity and outsiders will find ways to usurp land like many have done in Meghalaya by marrying Khasi women,” he pointed out.
The amended Act exempts non-tribals who are permanent settlers of Meghalaya. This is as inclusive as it gets for now considering Shillong’s violent past.