Kolkata/ Nepal stands to lose the few tourists it attracts from Kolkata following its decision to ban Indian currency notes above the denomination of Rs 100, say travel agents. Nepali citizens working in the city and rest of India, though, feel it is they who will feel the pinch most as they will face problems in repatriating their earnings.
“The tourist flow from Kolkata to Nepal is currently less than 400-a-week, way less than some South East Asian countries that attract as many tourists daily. The low traffic is owing to multiple factors: poor connectivity (Air India operates three fights a week), uncertain political scenario and a perception that a holiday in Nepal does not offer value for money. People, therefore, prefer to travel to Thailand or Singapore,” said Sajan Kumar Gupta of Vayu Seva Travel & Tourism. “The advantage of travelling to Nepal was that one did not need to change the currency. With this restriction, even that will slip away as people will have to carry a bulk of the amount in plastic money or needlessly change to dollars or Euro for reconversion in Nepal,” said Travel Agents’ Federation of India (TAFI) chairman Anil Punjabi.
While pilgrimage is big in Nepal, there are a few who go to Kathmandu to try their luck in casinos. The latter is expected to now switch to Sikkim or Goa as carrying large amount in Rs 100 denomination is extremely cumbersome. Nepali citizen Narayan Humagai, who worked in the private sector in Kolkata, says it will be extremely difficult for wage earners and those in low and semi-skilled jobs with no bank accounts to take their earnings back to Nepal.
“A large number of people don’t transact electronically. For those who have accounts, the ban will not be a bother. But it certainly will for the rest. We will take it up with the Nepal consulate in Kolkata,” he said. Some city tour operators, though, felt that the development won’t have any impact on their business. “We receive the payments beforehand. As far as shopping in local markets is concerned, we always advise our customers to carry enough notes of Rs 100 denomination,” said Soumyajit Nandy of GoingWild that has recently conducted a tour to Bardia National Park.
The genesis of the currency ban, though, dates back to the mid-1990s when the Indian government asked Nepal to ban big denomination notes (Rs 500) to stop smuggling of fake currencies into India across the border. Nepal was also wary of its economy being sabotaged by fake Indian currencies. This ban had subsequently eased.
Many view the recent reimposition of ban against currency notes of higher denomination, this time by Nepal, as a counter measure to the November 2016 demonetization. Thousands of Nepalis were left with several crores worth Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 Indian currency notes that went out of circulation overnight. Now Nepal’s information and communications minister Gokul Prasad Baskota says it has not legalized any Indian currency higher than Rs 100 denomination, thereby ruling Rs 200, Rs 500 and Rs 2000 currency notes illegal in the country.