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Travelling to India: Laws to keep in mind

Synopsis:

The following article contains a deep analysis of the Tourism Laws in our country that shall be kept in mind by each and every International individual touring the country or deciding to make a stay herein. There are a number of general laws that shall also be kept in mind by the tourists and this article provides an easy reading to all the same.

“Atithi Devo Bhava”- Each and every Indian citizen knows this phrase and duly abides by the same. It means that every guest is equal to god and should be treated like so. India is an ancient & historic nation with a wealth of heritage, history, diversity and traditions. With India's scenic beauty & aesthetic value becoming an enormous part of its identity, it is no surprise that this land's number of tourists is increasing day by day. India, being rich in culture and its heritage often comes out to be a surprise for those wanderlusts who seek nature and existence out of their homes. People outside the country are often told and specified to learn some tips and tricks in order to visit India and enjoy their stay in our nation. There are certain customs and laws that are to be kept in mind by each and every individual who comes as a tourist to India. Casually speaking, when it comes to Indian customs and laws, the rumour mills can really get winding on one’s nerves. Can your hand be chopped off if you steal something? No. Are lynch mobs a common form of justice? Definitely not! Can you be arrested for a quick hug in the street? Unfortunately, yes!

However, there is a set of rules specified as Tourist Laws in our nation that pretty much sums up all that one needs to know and learn whilst his or her travel and stay in our country. Fortunately, a majority of tourist laws are made clear by Indian law, regardless of whether you are an international tourist or just visiting the country. The same can be easily summarised.

When it comes to foreigners visiting India, there are 3 laws that one must comply with in general:

  • The Passport [Entry into India] Act, 1920
  • The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939
  • The Foreigner’s Act, 1946

While knowing these acts like the back of your hand is definitely not necessary, there are certain formalities that must be adhered to by the concerned.

  1. Every foreigner must register with the Foreign Regional Registration Office within 14 days (or 24 hours in the case of a tourist from Pakistan), unless otherwise stated in his visa. That can be done at the airport itself. Foreigners visiting India not need to register themselves if they are coming for a period of 180 days or less than that.
  2. Section 14 of the Foreigners Registration Act stipulates that a foreign national must disclose his / her name, nationality & documents such as passport, proof of identity etc. & give his / her signature to the hotel or guest house where he / she is staying. The hotel / guest house management must inform the police, within 24 hours, of the said arrival.Foreign nationalists also need to keep copies of Form C & Form F of the Foreigners' Registration Act to stay in a hotel. These can be obtained from the Registration Office of Foreigners, or downloaded online.
  3. Foreign nationalists shall not be permitted to visit places marked as protected areas or restricted areas unless the authority concerned possesses a permit. The request for such permission must be made at least eight weeks in advance and has to be substantiated by an extraordinary reason to visit the places mentioned.
  4. International visitors must always hold their passport upon them. If they want to drive on their trip, they must have an international driving license and a helmet if a two-wheeler is to be ridden.
  5. Any cash, bank notes or traveller’s checks in excess of a sum of USD 1000 or its equivalent shall be disclosed in the Currency Declaration Form. This currency can only be converted to Indian currency at banks or by authorized money changers.
  6. Regarding Check-ins, there are 2 check-in counters for tourists at the airport. Passengers with no dutiable things or unaccompanied baggage are permitted to walk through the Green Path, while the others are required to use the Red Path.When a passenger is found on the Green Channel in possession of dutiable or forbidden goods, he is responsible for a fine or imprisonment as well as for the goods being seized.Travellers visiting from the Yellow Fever Endemic Countries must have a Yellow Fever Certificate of Vaccination in accordance with International Health Regulations before they are allowed into the country.

The Code and Conduct for Safe and Honourable tourism is another set of rules that sets aside the code and procedure for the conduct of an international individual visiting India. Some other general things that have to be kept in mind by the tourists can be listed below.

i. Public Protocol:

  1. Public Display of Affection: Much of the issues in Indian law stem from the fact that the Indian Penal Code's vague wording gives the cops an unfair amount of wiggle room. While in the towns you may find rows of couples making out by the shoreline beneath skimpy scarves, more rural areas may tend to object to even holding hands or a peck on the cheek.
  2. Public Nuisance: Section 268 describes this as "an unlawful omission that causes the public or the people in general some common harm, risk or annoyance." Note the use of the word 'annoyance,' again widely available for interpretation. Do not disturb residents with loud noises, public drunkenness or anything that could be interpreted as vandalism. Sexual harassment is legally punishable.
  3. Recording: Obviously you want to take home a trove of videos and photographs and India offers a multitude of photo ops, but one should try to be a little careful in sensitive areas. Military and government areas, crowded airports and train stations are still on high alert to threats to security, so you don't want to be mistaken for one. If you are carrying any, put away binoculars.

ii. Substance Laws:

  1. Alcohol usage: The legal age for drinking varies from 18 to 25 from state to state, so do some local research before you leave. Usually a distinction is made between mild liqueur (beer and wine) and hard liquor (spirits). Avoid any nearby liquor that your hotel manager or tour guide hasn't checked and again, no public drunkenness. When an election occurs, alcohol can be banned a few days before, and days of local religious or political importance are usually dry as well. Some states are dry year round [For instance Gujarat], or require an alcohol purchase, transportation or consumption licence. Carriage of alcohol between states is also illegal due to the various laws on alcohol; you may be stopped for random screening.
  2. Drugs: Unambiguously illegal. On every street corner, cigarettes and chewing tobacco are available and do not carry a lot of social stigma. However, there is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts considered only for personal consumption, and a sentence of 10 years for possession of anything sufficient for trafficking. The convicted criminals should face fines and a minimum 10-year prison term.
  3. Beef: In 2015, several states declared a blanket ban on exports, imports and sales of beef and beef products, a continuation of cow slaughter laws preventing them. Deliberate killing or mutilation of a cow will carry a sentence of five years in prison.

iii. Contraband:

  1. The government controls the transportation and possession of guns, antiques, computer devices, local currency, ivory, gold and pornographic materials. Non-residents are prohibited from importing or exporting Indian rupee whilst residents are subject to limitations. For more information one can see the Central Excise and Customs Board of India. In particular, antiquities must be registered with local police, along with a photo of each item. Satellite phones are forbidden.

The Indian legal process is cumbersome and lengthy and one should do their best to avoid any brush with the law. Individuals arrested on a major offence can languish in jail for years before a verdict is reached. Indian red-tapism can hamper with any consulate’s attempts to help. Trying not to forget that the death penalty is still awarded in this country for the ‘rarest of rare cases can be a very wise option. This is another excellent example of the nation's tendency for vague wording. Concluding, one shall always keep in mind their rights and defend their innocence, however courteously.

 

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