In a bid to boost the economy, one-and-a-half years after India suspended tourist visas in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre on Thursday announced it will begin issuing visas from October 15, although tourists will be allowed entry into India only in chartered flights for a month.

Those who want to visit India on “bubble flights” or scheduled commercial flights would have to wait until November 15, the government said.

“After considering various inputs, the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has decided to begin granting of fresh tourist visas for foreigners coming to India through chartered flights with effect from October 15, 2021,” the MHA said in a statement.

It stated that foreign tourists entering India by flights other than chartered aircraft would be able to do so only from November 15 on fresh tourist visas.

The decision, it is learnt, was under deliberation for over a month and the Tourism Ministry had been pushing for opening up of tourist visas, as the tourism and hotel sector had suffered the most during the pandemic. The high number of vaccinations achieved over the last couple of months, and significantly low number of infections being reported from large parts of the country, also helped in this decision.

Tourism is an important sector for Asia's third-largest economy, with the country seeing 10.93 million tourist arrivals in 2019, according to the government.

Since last March restrictions on most categories of foreign visas such as diplomats and businesspeople have been gradually lifted but tourists remained barred even as most economic activity resumed.

The home ministry said it "had been receiving representations" from state governments and different stakeholders in the tourism industry to allow tourists to return.

It stressed that all Covid-19 protocols "should be adhered to by the foreign tourists, carriers bringing them into India and all other stakeholders at landing stations".