In a bid to revive the coronavirus-hit tourism industry, the Himachal Pradesh Cabinet on Monday relaxed stringent conditions imposed amid the Covid-19 pandemic on stay of tourists in the hill state.
However, the stipulation of interstate e-movement passes will continue to be enforced but its issuance will be streamlined to avoid harassment to visitors.
The Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur also decided to reduce the minimum stay of the tourists to two days from five days.
Also, the government relaxed the norm for the tourists to bring along Covid-19 negative reports/certificates.
"Earlier, the Covid-19 negative report was not to be more than 72 hours old before the visits. Now, the time has been increased to 96 hours," Urban Development Minister Suresh Bhardwaj told the media here after the Cabinet meeting.
"After reviewing the central government's latest guidelines, we have decided to streamline the issuance of COVID passes for movement to and fro the state. It will be hassle-free and issued within the time frame fixed by the Deputy Commissioners concerned," Bhardwaj said.
"No one can enter the state without an e-pass. All interstate movement will be monitored through the prevailing registration process. Any person keen to visit Himachal can enter his particulars on this software and he will get permission on priority," he added.
However, the state's decision is contrary to last week's Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla's directive to the states to make sure that there are no restrictions on the interstate and intrastate movement of persons and goods during the ongoing unlocking process.
The Home Secretary on August 22 cited Unlock 3.0 guidelines of July 29 while asking the state governments and administrations of Union territories not to stop people on their respective borders.
Earlier, hoteliers had rued that the tourism industry crisis was getting deeper as all tourism units were closed since March 21.
They said that the state government had permitted to reopen the hotels in Unlock 3.0 but the rules under which the tourists were allowed to come to Himachal were stringent. The tourists were thus not showing interest in visiting the hill state, said a statement by Shimla-based Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association.
Members of the hospitality industry told IANS that they had never seen such disaster in recent times as the arrival of tourists to Himachal had almost stopped, and that the hotel bookings had vanished as the state closed its borders and imposed the lockdown.
Himachal Pradesh is a major tourism destination for people from across India as well as abroad, with the tourism sector's contribution to the state GDP pegged at around seven per cent.
The state's tourist footfall last year increased to 172.12 lakh, including 3.83 lakh foreigners, from 164.50 lakh in 2018. The highest tourist arrival in 14 years was 196.02 lakh in 2017.