Agartala, June 20 (IANS) The Tripura government has opposed a move by New Delhi to abolish a 34-year provision to grant special passports for residents in the northeast and West Bengal to visit Bangladesh, officials Tuesday said.
The external affairs ministry recently communicated to all seven northeastern states and West Bengal the proposal to discontinue issuing passports for Bangladesh on security grounds.
Six northeastern states - Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland - agreed to the ministry's proposal.
However, the Left Front government in Tripura opposed the move.
"The Tripura government strongly opposes the move to abolish special India-Bangladesh passport because this service benefits the people of the northeast who rarely travel to any other country except Bangladesh," Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said in a letter to the ministry.
The special passport provision came into force in September 1972 with a similar arrangement for Bangladeshi nationals to visit the northeast and West Bengal.
New Delhi has requested Dhaka to discontinue the special passport scheme for their citizens travelling to the northeast and West Bengal.
The Tripura government last year issued 9,500 passports, while about 4,800 have been issued so far this year under the existing scheme.
"It is unfair to take such important decisions unilaterally. We are getting at least a hundred passport applications every day," Nepal Chandra Sinha, secretary-cum-commissioner of the Tripura government's political department, told IANS.
The external affairs ministry cited "national security" as the main reason to do away with the existing special passport provisions, saying smugglers, trans-border racketeers, militants, women and child traffickers, were misusing the scheme.
"An Indian national of Basirhat in West Bengal had visited Bangladesh several times using a passport under the scheme and he was found to have provided important information to Pakistani terrorists to hijack the IA Airbus to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1999," a ministry official said.
Pointing out technical and security-related lacunae, ministry officials told Tripura government representatives during a meeting in New Delhi that the special passport provision does not conform to international security norms.
"If the ministry would like to suggest any improvement in the existing system in issuing the special passports, our government is ready to cooperate," the chief minister said in his letter.
The Tripura government had suggested that the ministry issue a single passport to make travel easy for locals to Bangladesh.
"Bangladesh, after long persuasion, allowed double entry visa. Bus services between Agartala and Dhaka and Kolkata and Dhaka have allowed the people of the northeast to go to Kolkata and rest of the country via Bangladesh, thereby saving both time and money," the chief minister said.
Tripura is surrounded by Bangladesh from three sides with the people from the landlocked state taking at least two to three days to reach Kolkata by road via Assam.
"It would take just 24-hours to reach Kolkata via Dhaka travelling by bus from Agartala," another official said.