India okays scheme for govt staff to travel to Nepal

NEW DELHI: Fulfilling a commitment made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the SAARC summit held in Kathmandu in November, the Indian government has approved a proposal to allow more than two million government employees to travel to Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka on Leave Travel Concession scheme.

The development comes as a major boost for Nepal which was recently devastated by three major earthquakes and more than 300 aftershocks. Consequent to the natural disaster tourist arrivals in the Himalayan nation plummeted to almost zero levels causing much panic in the tourism sector which is a major contributor to the country’s GDP. Most of the hotels in Nepal have since reported largescale cancellations of bookings made by tourists, especially the pilgrimage tourists from India.

The Indian government’s decision in effect will encourage middle class Indians to travel to Nepal either on pilgrimages to Hindu and Buddhism sites or for recreational and adventure purposes. “The government decided to fast track the proposal following the earthquake in Nepal so as to boost tourism in that country which is still reeling under the impact of the earthquake,” sources at the civil aviation ministry told The Himalayan Times here.

Under the provisions of the LTC, all the government employees can travel to any destination of their choice after due process and the cost of travel would be borne by the government. Hitherto the LTC facility was only available for travel within India. The move was aimed at boosting tourism within SAARC countries. However, Indian government employees cannot use the LTC to travel to Pakistan and Bangladesh, as these two neighbouring countries have been left out for now owing to security issues.

The ministry of civil aviation endorsed the proposal so that the LTC can be availed for the time being the on national carrier Air India while flying to these countries. The private airlines flying into Nepal are likely to lobby for a chunk of the pie in this newly created segment by arguing that Air India does not have the bandwidth to meet the likely surge in traffic to Nepal.

There are around two million government employees. With the extension of the LTC scheme there is bound to be greater movement of Indians to the four countries. Considering the close people to people ties between India and Nepal, they are likely to prefer to travel to Nepal using the facility.

Tourist arrivals via air

Year    India    China    Sri Lanka    Bangladesh

2013    180,974    113,173    32,736    22,410

2012    165,815    71,861    69,476    16,764

2011    154,735    61,917    59,884    17,563

2010    120,898    46,360    45,531    21,047