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Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017: India Braces for Diaspora Meet Again


Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017: India Braces for Diaspora Meet Again

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Luis Santos da Costa, an Indian origin leader, is going to be the Chief Guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), to be held from January 7 to 9, 2017, in Bengaluru. More than 3000 Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) from across the world are expected to attend the three-day conclave. It is taking place at a time when demonetization of high valued currency notes has ushered in a sort of economic revolution in the country, with the Narendra Modi government asking people to switch over to digital mode of payment for day-to-day transactions so that corruption and black money could be rooted out. In that way, it is possible that the PBD could be used by the government of the day as a platform to portray positive picture about demonetization and its impact on economic growth and ease of doing business in the country.

Is Diaspora only about investment?

The government said the Diaspora meet is not all about their money and investment. “PBD convention is organized by the government to strengthen the bonds with the overseas Indian community; to inform them about significant developments in India; discuss issues of concern to the Diaspora and opportunities in India that can be tapped by overseas Indians,” Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retd) V K Singh recently told the Rajya Sabha. Yet, the truth can’t be sidestepped. Overseas Indians are treated like blue-eyed babies by the government. To lure investments from them, several schemes have been launched. If investments by the Diaspora are made on non-repatriable basis, according to one of the schemes, it would be treated as domestic investments and would not be subjected to foreign direct investment caps.

What is status of NRI investment?

As per a statistics from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, India received US$453,183 million worth of investments from April 2000 to September 2016. Of this, US$1273.138 million was invested in various sectors on repatriable basis by overseas Indians. Till September 2015, their deposits in Indian banks have also swelled to US$ 1210 million. Besides, they are major contributors of remittances. In 2015, as per the World Bank, India attracted US$69 billion in remittance. This year also, despite the fact that the country is expected to see a decline in remittance, it is not going to be less than US$65.5 billion, states the World Bank’s report, published in October.

Is Diaspora being covered under Aadhar Card facility?

At the time, the Diaspora is not getting any Aadhar Card facility. However, in pursuance of the country’s digital initiative, there is a plan to extend the facility of the Aadhar Card to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card holders and NRIs so that they can also get access to several government schemes. But it is hard to speculate that this facility will be soon availed to the Diaspora, given that the issue is linked with several intricacies. Without facilitating debate or discussion in Parliament over it, overseas Indians would not be allowed to have access to the Aadhar Card.

What’s the objective behind merging of PIO card with OCI?

Person(s) of Indian Origin (those who held a passport in a country other than Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and Overseas Citizens of India (those who held a passport of another country, but was a citizen of India at the time of, or at any time after, the unveiling of the Constitution on 26thJanuary, 1950) used to get different facilities in terms of visits and residency in India. While an OCI card holder could enter India for an indefinite period because he or she was availed with life-time Indian visa; a PIO card holder, despite enjoying visa-free travel had to seek fresh registration from the appropriate Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO), if he or she stayed in India for more than 180 days.

Last year, the PIO card facility was merged with the OCI. This was done with an aim to curb discrimination between the PIOs and the OCIs and facilitating Indian origin people in having the benefits of visa-free travel, besides getting long-term residency rights in order to participate in economic and educational activities in India.

Are overseas Indians’ happy with merger move?

A sizeable number of Indian Diaspora is happy with New Delhi’s move to merge the PIO card facility with the OCI one. But those belonging to Asia, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific nations, where immigration occurred 100 or 150 years ago, are simmering in discontent. Their complaints are that after the merger, only up to fourth generation of overseas Indians have been brought under the OCI card ambit, whereas those who are descendants of the fifth or sixth generation Indians, have been left ignored. However, assurance has been given by the government that “a serious consideration is made on the issue of availing the facility of OCI to persons of Indian origin whose ancestors left India more than a century ago.”

Are overseas Indians of West and those from Gulf treated equally?

There are around seven-million Indians in the Gulf region. They are largely blue collar workers who are engaged in the construction industry. More than 50 per cent of remittances to India come from Indians working in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. Despite this, they complain that they have not received expected support from their motherland even as they suffer exploitation and torture at the hands of their Gulf employers. But New Delhi rebuffs such allegations from expatriates, citing the case of India’s intervention when thousands of Indian workers were left to starve this year in July in Saudi Arabia after their company laid them off without paying salaries which were due for several months.

New Delhi also cites example of its signing of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the government of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait for making Indian workers’ situation safe and non-exploitative in the Gulf. This apart, for the resolution of consular related grievance, an online portal ‘MADAD’ has been launched. With this launch, anyone sitting anywhere, whether at home or elsewhere, can register his or her complaint. As soon as complaint is registered on the Madad system, the government claims, attempts are made to address that complaint.

Are overseas Indians eligible to vote in elections in India?

Yes, their demand for being part of India’s electoral system has been addressed. They have been allowed to vote from overseas through e-postal ballots or proxy voting. That means an unreasonable restrictions posed by Section 20(A) of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act of 2010, requiring overseas electors to be physically present in their constituencies to cast their ballots during elections, have been removed. Also, there is no plan to nominate prominent NRIs for the country’s Upper House of Parliament.

Conclusion

Argument behind organizing the PBD is that it is held to bridge the gap between overseas Indians and their motherland. However, given that their expectations are only rising and that some of their demands like ‘dual citizenship’ remain unfulfilled, would expatriates, especially from the West and the US, still cast their lot with motherland? It is a million dollar question.

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