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New Visa rules announced today

by Luxman-Arvind

(August 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) At last Colombo has flexed its muscles and, probably targetting inflexible Indian officialdom, reminded them if our people do not secure reciprocity on the Visa-on-Arrival matter, the other side does not get it too. As usual, Sri Lanka has been reasonable - and quick to respond to SAARC resolutions to dismantle travel restrictions within the region. But India has been mute to growing demands from Sri Lanka to make travel easier. GoSL in today's announcement, however, insists this will be allowed to countries that allow our citizens the same facility viz:- Singapore and the Maldives.

India has continously ignored suggestions of several of our Governments and media pressure to yield to facilitate greater arrival of Lankan tourists in India. She has refused the call in this regard from her own bosses of the Hospitality industry and many sections of the Indian media to be flexible. Visa-seekers undergo much expenditure, inconvenience and harassment at the hands of Indian Consular officials in Sri Lanka is something that has been highlighted for long - but Indian officialdom continues to mislead its political bosses in the South Bloc with imaginary fears of "LTTE" since 1983 and then - once this is no more - with the new discovery of "Pakistani terrorists using Indian passports" and what not. It is an open secret much underhand money transactions of large amounts daily are involved in Visas to India. It is even said Foreign Office employees in India bribe senior officials there to get posted in Sri Lankla - "a gold-mine" as one had mentioned to a friend in Colombo in a state of inebriation. Now we understand, the disease has spread to Indian Consular offices in Canada, the USA, Britain, E/U, Australia and other places - home of sizeable concentrations of the Lankan diaspora. Many of them are keen to visit India on pilgrimage, holiday and other matters. In view of the unsettled conditions in Sri Lanka in the past two decades, most Lankans in the diaspora meet their Tamil relatives from the Island either in Chennai or other parts in Tamilnadu.

That the announcement should be made while our trio of VVIP visitors are in Delhi for crucial bi-lateral talks bears its own significance. But what is clear is little Sri Lanka insists rationale is the key and size does not matter in today's global diplomatic reality. One is left to wonder if the proposed visit of the influential and affable Indian Minister S.M. Krishna - chalked for September - will result in better news to the increasing number of visitors from both countries. Delhi seems quite content in ignoring increased Indo-Lanka tourism now contributes to greater peace and better understanding between the two peoples?

President Rajapakse's government must be congratulated for taking a tough stand in the matter. Often, Indians appear to relent only when we put our foot down.

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