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News analysis

Visa discrimination and special relationship

By Special Correspondent
09th-Feb-2014       
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News report said India has decided to extend visa-on-arrival facility to tourists from 180 countries to boost domestic tourism but it led to an immediate confusion whether or not Bangladesh will be entitled to the new facility. Over five lakhs Bangladeshi nationals visit India per year but they face serious ordeals in getting the visa as and when they need it.   
Meanwhile the Indian High Commission in Dhaka in a clarification on Friday said there is no change in current visa procedures insofar as Bangladesh is concerned. The new visa facility will come into effect from next tourist season in October next. The Indian High Commission spokesperson said as and when there will be changes to the existing system for Bangladesh, these will be formally announced.
The report said the Indian government decision will hugely benefit visitors to India. Under the new system visitors will have to fill up a simple form, pay the required fee with a bank card and apply for visa on the designated website. The applicants will get electronic travel authorisation within three days. On arrival in India, a simple biometric identification will be done at the airports and visa on arrival will be stamped.
If anyone wants to extend his stay beyond 30 days, he will have to get another visa from the authorities using the same procedure.
With this new visa facility disclosure, political observers in Dhaka feel highly disappointed as the clarification from the Indian High Commission made it clear that the new tourists' visa on arrival at Indian airports will not be eligible for Bangladeshi nationals.
They believe it is rather an unusual decision. People here tend to believe that Bangladesh is now having the special relationship with India and anything that benefits visitors should be available to Bangladeshi nationals on the priority basis.
As we know Bangladeshi visa seekers from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka routinely suffer from serious difficulties in obtaining a visitor's visa especially for medical treatment, sight seeing, education and business.
They will have to apply through website taking the help of visa agents and then wait for up to three months at the minimum to a call for interview. Journalists are almost totally bared except from a list of selective candidates. Meanwhile 'visa business' is also thriving in the sideline at a huge cost to persons in difficulties.  Insiders said one has to pay Tk 25,000 for a single visa on urgent basis to get in a single working day. It is almost an open secret. The High Commission however deny visa to most applicants on reasons not shared with them.
People here believe India must extend the hand of sincere friendship to make the special relationship meaningful with Bangladesh. A friend in need is a friend indeed. The incumbent government has proved its sincerity at all cost and in all respects to the Indian government both in strategic, security and other trans-border sensitive issues. But conversely, one can't fairly understand as to why facilities such as the simplistic visa on arrival at Indian airports can't be equally entitled to Bangladeshi nationals.
Bangladeshi people similarly expect Indian help and cooperation in their struggle for restoration of a democratic regime in Bangladesh which India is practicing over the years. It is a democratic country with long tradition but recent political events in Bangladesh are highly disturbing as it showed Delhi is more interested to maintaining special relationship with the ruling party even at the cost of disrupting the nation's democratic system and its public institutions.
Moreover its border security forces are routinely killing Bangladeshi nationals on the border without a visible remedy. Taking life of Bangladeshis for alleged border crossing appears too easy. India is also withholding the signing of the Teesta river water sharing agreement and not ratifying the border agreement to swap the adversely possessed land and the enclaves on both sides of the border.
As we see, Delhi is unilaterally benefiting from transit facilities but refraining from opening the Indian market to duty-free access of Bangladeshi exports at a time when Indian exports are over ten times higher than Bangladesh's exports to India.
The visa issue reminds the nation once again that Indian government must extend a more friendly hand to Bangladesh. We hope its policy makers will rethink on these issues.  

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