Introduction: Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873

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The North Eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim collectively constitutes the Ashta Lakshmi states. For inward travel into any of the “Protected” or “Restricted” areas of some of these states given under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order 1958 requires an official document issued by the Government which is known as the Inner Line Permit.

This permit system goes back to 1873 when the British Government instituted the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations. So, let us first look into what this Regulation is all about.

The Britishers first entered North East India by conquering Assam in the Anglo Burmese War of 1824-26. They occupied the conquered states but pursued “isolationist policy” for the North East Frontier Tracts (present Arunachal Pradesh) intending to leave the tribesman alone.

The first administrative policy of the British in the North East was the introduction of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation in 1873 also known as the Inner Line Regulation. Under Section 2 of the Regulation an “inner line” was prescribed by the state authority for limiting movement.

Section 4, gave the authority power to provide a permit for passing or residing in any of these “inner line” areas. The idea behind this regulation was to protect the culture and identity of indigenous tribes in the region, giving them some autonomy to look into their personal tribal affairs.

During British rule, the regulation prohibited the “British Subjects” or Indians from entering into the protected or restricted areas but post-independence the word “British Subject” was replaced by “Citizens of India”.  At present, the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation continues to apply, in present-day Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.

What is Inner Line Permit?

The Inner Line Permit (ILP) system is an offshoot of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation by which an “Inner Line” was prescribed for the tribal areas. Simply put an ILP is an official document issued by the government which allows travel into a protected or restricted area for a certain period of time.

The Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958 passed in furtherance of the Foreigners Act, 1946 defines the ‘Inner Line’ throughout India starting from Jammu and Kashmir and ending in Mizoram. It represents the furthest point up to the international border where a traveller can visit on a visa alone. Beyond this point, he/she requires to have the Inner Line Permit.

Under the Order of 1958, all areas falling between the ‘Inner Line’ and the ‘International Border of the State’ are Protected Area, whereas, areas falling between the ‘Inner Line’ and the ‘Territory occupied by indigenous tribes’ are Restricted Area, which are prohibited for entry without a permit. Thus, ILP is an official travel document issued by the state government of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram for visiting any of these restricted or protected areas of the state.

Why was it introduced?

The introduction of the Inner Line Permit was based upon the humble notion of preserving the indigenous character of all the tribes living in the restricted areas of the North-Eastern parts of the country. It was designed to prevent the influx of migrants thus protecting and preserving the rich heritage of the North Eastern Tribes.

Even in the colonial period, the Bengal Regulation of 1873 was based upon a similar notion by following “isolationist policy” of not interfering with a tribe’s internal affairs and letting them have a certain degree of autonomy.

The influx of a large number of migrants is one of the major reasons for the introduction of the Permit System. Some other reasons for its introduction are like protection of their religious, social and customary laws, ownership and transfer of land, administration of civil and criminal justice, etc.

Therefore, it can be said that Inner Line Permit was introduced to protect the indigenous tribes from exploitation in the name of tourism thus preserving their fragile cultures and traditions.

Who can obtain the permit?

The Inner Line Permit could be availed by both domestic as well as foreign tourists, only difference be the procedure to avail the same.

For a domestic tourist, the permit is known as the Inner Line Permit. This would avail him movement in all of the “restricted” and “protected” areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. It is provided on a routine basis so as not to hamper any tourist’s tour to the state.

For foreign tourist (except a tourist of Bhutan) the permit is known as the Protected Area Permit which is similar to that of the Inner Line Permit. The procedure for availing it is quite different and a bit tedious in comparison to former and can be obtained from All Indian Mission abroad, concerned state authority and in their absence from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

How to obtain it?

The procedure to avail an Inner Line Permit (ILP) or a Protected Area Permit (PAP) are quite different and could be availed online or offline. The procedure essentially depends upon the state one is travelling to. Out of the two, online is quite easy in comparison to the offline method because the time and paperwork involved in the former are comparatively less than the later.

To apply online ILP one simply has to visit the official website of the state government and apply for the “e-ILP”. For this one need to have an identity card like passport, voter’s id, driving license, Pan card or Aadhar card. One also has to upload a passport size picture and fill in all the prerequisite information to avail the ILP online. It usually takes a few hours for the issuance of the ILP online and has an expiry of 15 – 20 days.

To apply offline, one has to visit one of the centres available for offline ILP. The number of centres depends upon the state one is applying for. Like for instance, Mizoram has 6 centres whereas Arunachal Pradesh has 9. It can also be availed from “state houses” established in Delhi. The documents required are similar to that of Online Application only the time taken would be more.

For a foreigner to apply for the PAP the most convenient method is to visit the Deputy Resident Commissioner’s Office of the concerned state and fill an application. It could also be obtained from All Indian Missions abroad, All Foreigners Regional Registration Officers at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chief Immigration Officer, Chennai and the Ministry of Home Affair.

The documents required are duly filled application form, copy of the passport, visa and an application fee of $50 (payable in Rupees as well). The expiry is maximumly extendable for 30 days and issuance usually takes a day or two. One thing that is to be clear is that PAP is available to tourists in groups only and is not available to solo travellers.

Conclusion

The Inner Line Permit system in no way curtails a person’s freedom of movement, it is only a system to prevent any kind of harm to the peace-loving tribes of the North Eastern States. It is the preserver of their indigenous character by preventing the influx of tourists which could drastically affect their cultural heritage.

It is similar to that of the provision in the Indian constitution which protects the identity and culture of the tribal people. It does not act as an un-welcoming regulation but as a concrete and practical system to protect the indigenous people from losing their identity and becoming endangered. In the modern world, every nation must think of development without exploiting their indigenous communities and this is what this permit system is all about.

Lifting ILP may create a condition of extinction of tribal culture, rights and heritage. If at present the permit system is removed the influx of migration would be such that the situation of tribes would become similar to that of the Red Indians in America who due to the European influx lost their lands, their culture and ultimately succumbed to their extinction.

It is to be kept in mind that the culture of these tribes is the true heritage of our nation and this heritage should be preserved. For all these reasons the Inner Line Permit system need not be set, otherwise, it would not be late that the indigenous tribes of these North Eastern States would lose their cultural identity and would concede to the modernization of this ever-growing world.

Author: Pratyush Pandey from RGNUL, Patiala.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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