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A monumental ripple effect touched every nerve of India as cities bubbled with protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, last year. The bill was given the President’s assent on December 12, 2019. The act fast-tracks Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants who came to India on or before December 31, 2014 to avoid persecution in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Many have opposed the exclusion of Muslims in the bill, to which the Centre has claimed that the mentioned communities are a minority in the Muslim-majority countries.
The protests that followed—although mostly peaceful—have also seen ugly violence. Many protesters were water-cannoned, lathi-charged, detained, injured and also killed in the process, with the majority being in Delhi, NCR and Uttar Pradesh. Police personnel were also reported injured. The Centre was quick to clamp down on many areas, imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code that prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area. Additionally, internet and mobile services, along with public transportation were taken down in many parts under curfew.
The fragile state of India promptly invited official travel advisories from eight countries: the United States of America, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Australia, Russia and Singapore.
The US has cautioned travel to the country in light of the protests. The advisory also mentions the imposition of Section 144 in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, as well as the affected internet and mobile connections, traffic and public transport. The state of affairs in India were highly discussed in the US media. In fact, one day before the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump, three of the country’s biggest newspapers—The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times—gave front page coverage to the situation in India.
Canada has advised against all non-essential travel to the Northeastern states of India. Other countries, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Singapore, have acknowledged the presence of the protests in the northeast, as well as other parts of the country. Some advisories also highlight the imposition of Section 144. This could potentially affect the intention of the government’s UDAN scheme, under which over 30 airports and airstrips are up for bid in the Northeast to improve connectivity.
According to The Economic Times, tourism in the eastern region of the country suffered due to the high dependence on international tourists. The sudden withdrawal of trains from the Northeast to West Bengal and cancellation of multiple flights also crippled the inflow of tourists during the lucrative Christmas season. “Among the 14 lakh tourists who visit India from the US and the 10 lakh from the UK, near one lakh touch the Eastern Himalayan region including Darjeeling , Sikkim or NE region,” said Samrat Sanyal, General Secretary of Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network. “This premium sector business is now under jeopardy.”
The southern states of the nation also voiced dissent, with significant protests spreading to the small towns as well. In the thick of the situation, Mysuru lost 20 per cent of its tourism count as compared to the previous year, reported The Hindu. December, which generally sees 100 per cent occupancy, was hit by the lack of footfall.
December is also peak season for the festive state of Goa. The ideal winter getaway, Goa conjures waves of tourists for Christmas, which is no casual affair in the state. Last December, however, brought an axe to the numbers, cutting them by nearly 50 per cent, according to the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa. Over 300 shacks erected on the coastlines lay vacant as protests diminished the tourism count, reported Business Standard.
Of the countries that have issued travel advisories, some are the largest contributors to Indian tourism. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism, the US holds the second largest—after Bangladesh—share of foreign tourists to the country. While this percentage has been slipping, the absolute numbers have been on a rise. The estimates showed a whopping 14.5 lakh foreign tourists from the US in 2018. The UK was close at the heel with an impressive 9.75 per cent share with 10.2 lakh tourists. Canada (3.32 per cent), Australia (3.28 per cent) and Russia (2.48 per cent) are also significant shareholders in the top-10 source countries for Foreign Tourist Arrivals.
Thus, these travel advisories can potentially cost India’s tourism industry.
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