Dec. 2: India yesterday stopped a 41-year-old practice of issuing special “passports” allowing citizens from border states limited travel to Bangladesh that has gradually lost its appeal amid new visa norms that have made travelling between the neighbours easier.
Bangladesh stopped issuing these passports three years back and, in January, India had promised to end the practice on November 30 under the Revised Travel Arrangements inked by the nations.
States bordering Bangladesh, which were empowered to award the special passports to citizens, stopped accepting fresh applications on November 15, but documents already awarded will remain valid till they expire.
The decision to end the practice of issuing special passports drew criticism from Tripura leaders. “When business between the neighbouring country and the region has enhanced, this would create obstructions in the movement of people of the two countries and affect bilateral relations,” state industries and commerce minister Jitendra Choudhury said.
But the criticism from Tripura stems primarily from the absence of a passport seva kendra — a mini passport office — that forces local residents to travel to neighbouring states like Bengal to apply for a passport.
The special passport — which the state government itself could issue — created a shortcut for travellers from Tripura to Bangladesh.
“The concerns we’ve received from the Tripura government are exclusively about the absence of local facilities to issue passports — and not about the special passport regime in itself,” a ministry of external affairs official here told The Telegraph.
India has offered the special passport regime to citizens from border states visiting Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But while over 1,000 citizens would apply for these passports each month in the 1990s, today, fewer than 30 apply every month, officials said.
The drop in popularity of the special passport, the officials said, is a direct outcome of eased travel norms for Indians keen on visiting Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Colombo offers visas on arrival to Indian citizens, and over the past three years, India and Bangladesh have inked multiple pacts aimed at allowing easy travel for businessmen, students and divided families.