The government's stated move to ease entry of foreign tourists into India might take longer than planned. The proposal for an electronic travel authority (ETA) or e-visa, allowing entry through an electronically-stored authorisation and without a physical visa, could overshoot the October deadline.
The previous government had announced the proposal earlier this year. The current one had set the October target. Another step, to expand the list of countries on the visa-on-arrival (VoA) list beyond the current 12 is also witnessing delay. Officials associated with the second project indicated the list might not be increased significantly by December, as had been projected earlier.
The delay in these could hurt the peak tourism season in India, that begins in September and goes on till December.
The ETA portal is being developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC), which has been told to have it launch-ready by October 2. The list of countries to be added to the VoA list, yet to be finalised, is still being deliberated on between the ministries of home affairs (MHA), tourism and external affairs (MEA), officials said. The infrastructure support, in terms of personnel, comes from MHA through the Bureau of Immigration.
An NIC official involved with the launch of the portal said ETA was currently being tested and was almost ready but "dates can change based on decisions from the MHA".
Regarding VoA, an official in the ministry of tourism said the first phase, expected in October-November, will not have more than 35-40 countries being given the nod. Approvals have to come from the Intelligence Bureau, MHA and MEA for extending the list. Discussion continues between the three government bodies.
MHA officials were not available for comment on whether the current immigration infrastructure and personnel strength was adequate to handle a larger number of foreign tourists. The number of the latter's arrivals with VoA in August grew 59.7% when compared to the same period last year, to 2,705 from the earlier 1,694. During January-August, a total of 17,120 visas on arrival were issued as compared to 12,176 during the corresponding period of 2013, up 40.6%.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in his Budget speech in July, had announced e-visas would be issued at nine Indian airports. "This will facilitate visas on arrival," he had said. "We will begin the facilities in a phased manner."
However, the nine airports are yet to be announced. There's a need to deploy more resources at these nine airports to deal with greater inbound numbers, an official pointed out. Indira Gandhi International Airport in this city has 48 immigration counters, of which five are earmarked for VoA. "It takes 20 minutes or upwards for foreigners to clear immigrations in the VOA queue," said an executive at the airport.
With overall foreign visitor arrivals rising, the new steps around visa relaxation are expected to give tourism a boost. There was a growth of 16.9% in foreign tourist arrivals last month over August 2013, as compared to a growth of 9.1% in the latter over August 2012. There were 569,000 such arrivals in August 2014 aS compared to 486,000 in August 2013.