Updated: March 16, 2021 12:50:04 pm
The Uttarakhand government, in a recent meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had sought withdrawal of “inner-line permit” (ILP) system in Niti Valley of Chamoli district and Nelang Valley of Uttarkashi district for better border management and expansion of tourism and other economic activities in villages located there.
The ILP system restricts movement in areas close to the border for everyone other than those with a formal permission. In Uttarakhand, tourists have to obtain ILP for locations near China border, at least in the three districts of Uttarkashi, Pithoragarh and Chamoli.
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While the Uttarakhand government had requested that two locations be made free from ILP so far, local authorities in these districts say there shouldn’t be any ILP for other places as well so that economic activities increase and villages are rehabilitated so that locals could also act as ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ at border for surveillance.
It will also stop outward migration. According to officials in these districts, most of the border villages see outward migration owing to lack of livelihood opportunities.
Uttarakhand shares a 350-km border with China and a 275-km boundary with Nepal. Five of the state’s 13 districts are border districts. Chamoli and Uttarkashi share boundaries with China, whereas Udham Singh Nagar and Champawat have common boundaries with Nepal. Pithoragarh is strategically more sensitive as it shares boundaries with both China and Nepal.
Last year, Uttarakhand had decided to provide subsidy for the installation of mobile phone towers in the remote border villages, which are currently mostly out of network coverage area.
A look at the locations where tourists require ILP and how its withdrawal will help:
Nelong Valley, Uttarkashi
Nelong valley is an inner line area (India-China border) opened to domestic tourists only during the day. It is approximately 100 km from Uttarkashi headquarters. In Nelong valley, there are two villages-Nelong and Jadong — both of which have been abandoned since the 1962 war when the villagers migrated to Dunda and Uttarkashi tehsils . ITBP and the Army are deployed here. The China border is about 60-km from the Jadong village. Foreign tourists are prohibited in this area while domestic tourists are allowed entry with ILP. The maximum number of people allowed are 24 in a day and they cannot stay there at night.
According to an official, if ILP rules are relaxed, it will lead to an increase in tourists inflow and that will create employment opportunities for locals and they will start to return to their villages.
Currently, online permits are issued at a fee of Rs 150 for an individual and Rs 250 for each vehicle, and to collect the permit, tourists have to physically visit the SDM office. From the next tourist season, however, the fee will be deposited online and permits will also be issued online, said Devendra Singh Negi, Sub-District Magistrate (SDM) and ILP issuing authority.
Around 400 to 450 tourists visit Nelong valley every year and most of them turn up during Char Dham yatra when portals of Gangotri shrine are opened. The Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board, in a meeting in November last year, had discussed allowing more tourists and vehicles in a day to Nelong Valley.
Niti village, Chamoli
Located at an altitude of around 3600 metres, Niti village in Joshimath in Chamoli district is the last populated village before China border. Foreign tourists can travel to Niti village after obtaining ILP from Joshimath for a single-day visit, but night stay remains prohibited. Domestic tourists can travel to the village any time in the year by producing any identity proof.
The village remains populated with locals for six months in a year as they migrate to lower altitudes like Joshimath during winters due to adverse weather conditions in higher reaches. They return in summers as that is peak tourist season. In the recent season, no one has approached the SDM office for ILP so far, said Kumkum Joshi, SDM, Joshimath.
Niti village is around 40-km from Raini village where flash floods in Rishi Ganga river had washed away a hydro power project and several people had died in the incident.
An official said despite low population in the villages and extreme weather conditions, tourists like to visit Niti village for adventure of international border that is hardly 40-km from this village. Tourists come to Niti village when they visit Badrinath shrine during Char Dham yatra period.
Milam village, Munsiari, Pithoragarh
An official in Uttarakhand tourism department said Milam village is open to tourists but movement in the valley after Lilam village is not allowed without ILP. The official said that ITBP allows a minimum possible number of tourists to enter the valley as there is a risk of getting trapped and going missing in snowfalls in that area. Tourists visit here for Milam glacier trek. Villagers in Milam migrate to lower reaches in winters as this area receives heavy snowfall.
Vyas valley, Dharchula, Pithoragarh
In this valley, a permit is required for tourists to visit Naabhi and Kuti villages. Kuti is rge last habitable village. Domestic tourists require ILP to move after Chhiyalekh, which is around 40 km before Kuti village. According to an official, more than 1000 tourists visit Vyas valley annually, by obtaining ILP to see =Om Parvat from Naabhi village and Adi Kailash from Kuti.
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