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Absence Of Tourist Laws In Pakistan

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In recent years, the administrations of Nawaz Sharif and then Imran Khan have laid great emphasis on increasing tourism within Pakistan. They have seen this as a means of creating a positive image of the country, as well as generating and diversifying revenue.

There has been constant government attention to this in the form of ad campaigns, YouTube vlogs and constant invitations to the world to visit majestic sites in Pakistan. The country offers immense potential, not just in tourism to historical sites but also in the immense contrasts of scenery and terrain – from the mountains of the north to river plains and deserts.

And yet, successive administrations have failed to enact a legislative framework for tourism here. Pakistan did not make any conscious effort to promote tourism, unlike India. Nor did Pakistan make any legislative effort to regulate tourism, likewise.

Tourism laws in Pakistan are limited to a single act, with “The Pakistan tourist guides Act 1976” serving as the only such source of regulation. This four-page law is inefficient since it fails to define what a tourist is and in cases of violations, section 9 of the law imposes a measly penalty of 500 rupees with no jail time. And this means that, if for instance, a tourist guide imposes greater fee than that allotted in section 8 of the law, or is not licensed, then they only have to pay 500 rupees to walk away free and no complaint may be lodged. Section 9 subsection C forbids the court from taking any cognizance of any offence – unless that complaint is filed by the government.

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The result of all these legal and administrative problems is that the tourist suffers. On top of it all, Pakistan depends on other laws meant for other purposes to regulate tourism. But obviously, they all fall short, since their original purpose is not to regulate tourism.

An example for Pakistani tourism policy-makers might be found in our neighbour India. For all the problems with regulation there, the fact remains that the tourism industry in India has been a thriving one. A simple perusal reveals that Indian states have all passed their own laws regulating tourism and the revenues that accrue from it. And so, for instance, Bihar has its “Bihar interstate tourist vehicles Rules 1969” and Delhi has a “Delhi prevention of touting and malpractice against tourists Act 2010”, the latter of which slaps a 10,000 INR fine and a one-year jail term on harassers and those involved in malpractices. Goa itself has a “Goa tourist places (protection and maintenance) Act” to protect and preserve the beaches and scenic views that it is famous for.

But can we say that we have such laws in place for, say, Swat? Unfortunately not. In the absence of specific regulation, the administration relies on laws like the “Antiquities Act, 1975”, the “Foreigners Act 1946” or “The ancient monument preservation Act 1904”. As mentioned earlier, all of thse are meant for entirely different purposes, and can only offer a poor regulatory environment for the tourism industry.

In general, the current parliament of Pakistan has been well below par  in legislative work. Since its inception, it has passed only 12 laws. By comparison, its predecessor passed 205 laws in its five-year period tenure from 2013 to 2018, and the one before it from 2008 to 2013 passed 134 laws.

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Yet if the current government is to focus on tourism, then it must make sure to undertake without any further delay the necessary legislative effort so as to provide a conducive and safe environment for tourism in the country. The rewards would be obvious: a cash-strapped government could find, in coming years, that tourism could yield a significant revenue stream. But the process of promoting tourism in Pakistan is unlikely to be easy. After all, ours is a fledgling industry and the country is surrounded by others that offer a well-established framework for tourism. Only through proactive intervention on the part of authorities and a protective environment can we maintain existing tourist spots and promote new ones.

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