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New Delhi: India has initiated the process for making it a more tourist-friendly destination, which includes extending on arrival visa for 40 more countries, simplifying online visa, and attracting senior citizen foreign visitors to more airports.

The consensus was brought on these issues during a high level meeting convened on Sunday by the Planning Commission.

“There was a consensus about initiating the process to make India a tourist-friendly country and extending the on- arrival visa facility to around 40 more countries," planning minister Rajeev Shukla, who convened the meeting, said.

Another senior Planning Commission official aware of the development said no timelines had been put in place as yet and they would be determined after the home ministry gives “broad support" to the proposals of this meeting.

The minister said: “All officials, including the national security adviser (Shivshankar Menon), were of the view that India should do this as it would help in garnering more foreign exchange when government is battling the problem of burgeoning current account deficit as it would help in earning foreign exchange."

India’s current account deficit for the first quarter widened to 4.9% of gross domestic product from 4% in the year-ago period.

Besides Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, tourism secretary Parvez Dewan, the additional home secretary and representatives from the Intelligence Bureau and the Prime Minister’s office attended the meeting.

The countries for which visa on arrival facility would be extended include the US, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Ireland.

Under the visa on arrival system, India has agreement with different countries, including Japan, Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos and Myanmar.

Besides relaxing visa norms, Shukla said: “There was broad consensus on simplifying online visa system, relaxing visa regime for all types of conferences and senior citizen foreign tourist or foreign pensioners."

According to minister it was also decided that on arrival visa facility would be extended to more airports like Goa, Gaya, Chandigarh and Amritsar that have large flows of foreign tourists. PTI

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