The Union home ministry has relaxed for another year the protected area rules in three north-eastern states - Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland - to allow foreign tourists to visit these states, an official said in Aizawal on Friday.

“The Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order 1958 has been relaxed for one more year beyond Dec 31 last year to allow foreign tourists to visit the three north-eastern states subject to certain conditions,” a Mizoram government official told IANS. The rules were first relaxed in 2010 and this has been extended every year.

He said the central government relaxed the over five decades old rules to allow foreign tourists, except those from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Myanmar, in the three north-eastern states.

Under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, all areas in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand are declared “protected areas”, and foreigners need government permissions to visit them.

According to a report by tourism organisations, about 58,000 foreign tourists visited the north-eastern region last year, up by 18 percent from 2011. It was also estimated that tourist arrivals can increase by 25 percent within a year following relaxation of rules.

Non-domicile Indians and foreign nationals need to obtain either “inner line” or protected area or restricted area permit from the concerned authorities to visit many of the north-eastern states excluding Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

According to the Mizoram government official, the central government has been studying the permit-related issues following requests of the north-eastern state governments.

“The PMO (prime minister’s office) has also been examining the permit related matters and is now consulting with the concerned state governments,” the official added.