Government of India has issued an “advisory” for foreign correspondents working in India that without the permission of the current government, they cannot travel to certain areas including parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
In a letter dated 22 May 2018, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) wrote, “It has come to the notice of MEA that some foreign journalists based in India, while discharging their journalistic activities or travelling or for tourism purposes have travelled to places which come under restricted/protected areas that require prior permission/special permit.”
“Travel to these protected/restricted areas without prior approval/special permission may cause unnecessary access related issues resulting in inconvenience for the journalists,” the letter read.
Foreign correspondents have also been asked to provide “advance information, in requisite format” to the MEA before their visit since that will help it in “facilitating/arranging special permit from relevant agencies, where it is required”.
According to the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand have been declared as “protected areas”.
“We are going to take this up with the MEA and MHA,” Venkat Narayan, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) said. “India is the largest democracy, so the government shouldn’t be imposing any restriction on the media.”
It was never actually expected to apply for permission even after they were aware of the rule, foreign correspondents said. ThePrint reported that after the letter was written, the correspondents visits to the valley had been delayed by the government.
“This rule has been there on the book, but nobody ever mentioned it to us …So many foreign correspondents travelled to Kashmir during the floods, none of them took any permission,” a foreign correspondent, who did not wish to be named, said.
While going to the north-east required special permission, that had earlier not been the case with the valley. The journalist said There always used to be officials from the home ministry — the nodal ministry for all issues pertaining to internal security — at the Srinagar airport, and they would be monitoring foreign correspondents.
“But nobody ever said ‘what are you doing here’ or ‘do you have permissions to come here’ or turned us back from Kashmir,” the correspondent added.
“The decision appears to be a shift (from past policy)…Are they trying to set down foreign reporting on Kashmir,” the correspondent asked. “How can they encourage tourism in Kashmir on one hand and ask journalists not to go, on the other hand?”