Kolkata: Residents of West Bengal have reacted strongly to the recent imposition of a visa processing fee by the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata.
What has upset many in West Bengal is that visa applicants elsewhere in India submitting their visa forms at Bangladesh missions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Guwahati and Agartala will not have to pay the visa processing fees.
And while the visa processing in Kolkata will be outsourced to a private agency, that would not be the case elsewhere.
So visa applicants for Bangladesh who apply in Bangladesh missions elsewhere in India will, as before, directly to the high commission, deputy and assistant high Commissions.
The Bangladesh foreign ministry has taken the decision to outsource visa operations in Kolkata because of the ‘heavy load’ on mission staff.
In 2019, Bangladesh deputy high commission in Kolkata issued more than one lakh visas, a four-fold rise in seven years. This Bangladesh mission provides the highest number of visas annually among all foreign missions of Bangladesh abroad.
During Covid, it has also provided 9,000 No Objection Certificates ( NOC) to Bangladesh nationals who were stranded in Kolkata, mostly for medical treatment.
While Bangladesh accounts for 23 per cent of India’s foreign visitor traffic, West Bengal accounts for more than 80 per cent of Indian visitors to Bangladesh.
Deputy High Commission points to issuance of at least 600 visas daily — which sometimes cross the 1,000-mark during special occasions like festivals.
Thousands visit their ancestral homes and relatives, many more for business, work and tourism.
After March 2020, visa applications dropped sharply because of the dip in cross-border travel on account of the lockdown in India and Bangladesh due to the Covid pandemic.
But once things get normal, tens of thousands will resume visits.
“West Bengal shares the most intimate relationship with Bangladesh because of historical, cultural and linguistic links . It is very unfortunate that we have to pay a fee and applicants in other states don’t have to,” said trader Biswanath Das, who imports Hilsa fish from Bangladesh.
“Worse is us having to apply through a private visa agency while applicants in other cities can apply directly to missions. This will not only cause delay but bureaucratic hassles,” said elocutionist Swapna Dey who visits Bangladesh often for reciting poetry.
Functionaries of the Bharat-Bangladesh Maitri Samity and Friends of Bangladesh said the decision was unfortunate.
“We will let Bangladesh government know how strongly we feel about this,” said BBMS activist Banasree Mukherjee.
Another activist Supratim Ghosh said the present conduct of the deputy commission was very satisfactory and officers were very sympathetic to visa applicants.
“That may not happen when a private agency takes over,” he said.
“The two Bengals are divided entities but their soul is one. Governments both in India and Bangladesh must remember this,” said filmmaker Soumitro Dastidar.