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Bangladesh-bound Indians stranded as handwritten passports, Indo-Bangla agreement

Thousands of Bangladesh-bound travellers from the northeast have been left stranded following the abolishment of handwritten passports in November, prompting a Tripura leader to write to the Bangladesh prime minister.

In a letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Tripura opposition leader Sudip Roy Barman requested her to consider favourably the handwritten passports of at least people from Tripura as they have to visit her country for many reasons.

“A large number of people from Tripura have relatives in Bangladesh and thousands of people from northeast India visit Bangladesh every month for different reasons. Suddenly, the handwritten passports were abolished from November 24, putting them in an awkward position,” Barman said in his letter.

Special handwritten India-Bangladesh passports were issued to people of five Indian bordering states — West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram — under the 1974 Indo-Bangla agreement, popularly known as the Indira-Mujib Pact.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) had given citizens time till November 24 to get handwritten passports replaced with machine-readable passports (MRPs).

“Foreign governments may deny visa or entry to a person travelling on a non-machine readable passport from November 25,” a circular from the ministry of external affairs said.

The circular said the government has been issuing MRPs since 2001. Those issued before 2001 and particularly those issued during the mid-1990s with a validity of 20 years fall into the non-MRPs category.

Meanwhile, the Tripura government has been demanding that a passport office be set up in Tripura to issue Indian passports to the people of the state.

Currently, Indian passports are being issued to the people of Tripura and other northeastern states from the regional passport office in Kolkata and passport Seva Kendras in Guwahati and Imphal.

Passport Seva Kendras are likely to be opened in Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim soon.

An official of the Bangladesh diplomatic mission in Agartala said that after the abolishment of handwritten passports, the number of visas issued to Bangladesh-bound people has reduced to one-fourth.

Bangladesh currently has a diplomatic mission in the northeast in Tripura’s capital Agartala. The Agartala diplomatic mission would soon be upgraded as an assistant high commission.

A deputy high commission office would be set up in Assam’s Guwahati and it would have consular jurisdiction over Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh,” a Bangladesh government official said.

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