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Amit Shah assures CM Pramod Sawant of resolving UK e-visa matter soon

PANAJI: Chief minister Pramod Sawant said that Union home minister Amit Shah has assured to resolve at the earliest the UK e-visa issue that has proved a damper for Goa’s tourism industry this season even as the sector is trying to recover from the hit it took during the pandemic years. Tourists from the UK form the largest number of overseas visitors to the state and the chief minister had met Shah on Wednesday and discussed the issue of the e-visa among other matters pertaining to the state, including that of mining resumption. Shah assured the CM of reducing the export duty on low-grade iron ore to facilitate mining to restart in the state. “I have discussed the e-visa issue and Shah has assured me that e-visas will soon be issued to citizens of the UK and other countries,” Sawant said, adding that he explained the importance of UK tourists to Goa’s tourism industry and the impact it will have on the state’s tourism sector in case they don’t come. Non-issuance of e-visas to UK travellers had led to cancellation of charters from the UK to Goa, this year. India’s changed rules have increased the wait and hassle involved in getting a tourist visa by way of the requirement for a traveller to make physical visits to the visa centre preceded by a prolonged wait for an appointment for the same. The Union government had stopped issuing e-visas during the pandemic but recently restored it for some countries. Hotelier Ralph de Sousa said that there are long queues for Indian visas for citizens from the UK and some other countries. “If the Union government does not issue e-visas then the UK tourists will not visit Goa and it will affect our tourism season.” Sousa, however, said that Goa will receive charters from Russia. After Russia, the UK has been the biggest market for the state and receives repeat tourists. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed the scene. Recently the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) petitioned the chief minister to take up with the Centre the matter of issuing e-visas to citizens of the UK and other nations that have been excluded so far. Goa did not receive charter tourists last season, while another category of travellers — free, independent travellers (FITs) — largely avoided visiting India after the UK was excluded from the list of countries eligible for Indian e-visas. Speaking on the mining issue, Sawant informed Shah about leases that have been put up for auction and urged him to reduce the export duty on low-grade iron ore so that the auction can get a good response. “Shah has assured me to reduce export duty,” Sawant said. In May, the Union government increased export duty on iron ore below 58 grade from zero to 50%. Most of the iron ore produced in Goa is low grade (below 58 grade), and most of it is exported. The Union government also hiked export duty on iron ore above 58 grade to 50% from the existing 30%. After the intervention of former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, the Centre in 2016 had reduced the export duty on below 58 grade iron ore to 0% to boost its export from Goa.