Chandigarh: Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take necessary steps to liberalise the proposed visa protocol between India and Pakistan with a view to increasing people-to-people contact and trade between the countries.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, ahead of the home secretary level talks between the two nations to finalise the trade/visa protocol, Badal said that "the highly unrealistic and counterproductive age-restrictions of 12 years and 65 years imposed in the proposed protocol" are restrictive and defeat the spirit of the purpose for which the exercise is being undertaken.

He said that there was a strong case for enlarging the eligible category by keeping the lower and upper age limit at 18 and 40 years respectively.

This, he said, would not only be consistent with security concerns but, more importantly, would also enlarge "the constituency of peace, whose most active votaries are those that fall in the age-group that has been specifically kept out of the ambit of the proposed  provisions."

On provisions relating to norms for trade visa, Badal took strong exception to the clauses of the trade protocol which he said "appeared to be tailored to suit only the big business houses on either side of the border.

Limiting multiple entry visas to business houses with a high annual turnover is discriminatory, as this would deny small entrepreneurs, traders, farmers etc. the opportunity of benefitting from the opening up of the liberalized trade regime."

He called for a major downscaling of the turn-over limits "to enable small and medium businessmen and traders to make use of the improved ties between the two countries."

In addition, said Badal in his letter to the PM, "there is an urgent need to move beyond the purely commercial and religious areas for improving mutually beneficially interaction among the people of the two countries."

"In our obsession with trade promotion only, the humanitarian aspect appears to have been missed," he said.

He urged the Prime Minister to consider liberal visa-on-arrival facility for the pilgrims, seriously sick, patients with special ailments and their dependents, the disabled, "special needs" category persons, and make the protocol truly liberal in letter and spirit so that larger number of people, particularly youth on either side of the border, are encouraged to exchange visits.


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