The visa restrictions on foreign nationals travelling to or through India implemented late last year were shortsighted and lazy. And the diplomatic outcry was a testament to the thoughtlessness of such hasty, unidirectional, statist reactions. Under mounting complaints, the government, as reported in this newspaper on Wednesday, is considering alternatives to the infamous two-month moratorium on the re-entry of multiple-entry tourist visa holders. But it appears to be exiting one blind alley only to enter the next one. The "trip-based system" under consideration may allow a multi-entry tourist three trips within the period of her visa's validity.
For certain, this does away with the two-month cooling-off that has already harassed many — not merely regular tourists but also corporate- and policy-types, writers and academics. None of this has helped a growth-ambitious India's image abroad. But capping the number of trips changes very little on the ground. It's still inadequate, and having to apply for a fresh visa after exhausting the three-trip quota would defeat the very purpose of a multi-entry visa.
The government hopes, as it had done with the two-month absurdity, that this will enable effective monitoring and detect visa misuse. India is within its rights to tighten its visa regime in the omnipresent context of terror. But how will security for us, and convenience for "genuine tourists", be ensured by fixating on an arbitrary number — three — and assuming that will do the trick? Anybody who enters the country with mischievous intent, riding piggy-back on a multi-entry visa, can surely cause damage on the first, second or third trip? S/he can even wait out or get a new visa.
Thus automatic, misdirected and non-discriminating measures solve nothing. There should instead be investment of thought, resources and labour in discretionary entry-point stopping and post-entry surveillance. Since present documentation is immensely scientific and detailed, and since India is set to upgrade its screening systems, that will be a more practicable and effective solution. Visas are not a magic portal that, if barred, will stop danger from surprising us ever again.