By J.V. Lashmana Rao
Chicago: The 25 million Indians living abroad have been a great source of strength for India. When India was facing severe foreign exchange crisis in 1993, it was Non-Resident Indians, particularly the Gulf Indians, who came to its rescue. Similarly expatriate Indians living in the US have lobbied vigorously last year to make the hallmark Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement a reality.
These and many other subjects related to the NRIs were eloquently articulated while praising them for their role, by Vayalar Ravi, Union Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, at a reception hosted in his honor by the Indian Consulate in Chicago on November 8.
Giving all the credit for what the India of today is, to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vayalar Ravi said that it was Manmohan Singh, who as the Finance Minister under the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, initiated the economic reforms process. “You all know that India faced severe foreign exchange crisis when it had to pledge its gold in a London bank to pay for the oil bill. But now under his Prime Ministership that India bought 200 tons of gold to rescue the International Monetary Fund,” Vayalar Ravi said amid applause from the guests.
He said that as the then Union Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, while delivering his first budget speech, asked the Gulf Indians to help the government of India by putting their money in the Indian banks. And again during the second budget speech he congratulated the NRIs for their help that enabled India to get over the foreign exchange crisis. “Now as the Prime Minister, he has created the OCI Affairs Ministry exclusively to help the expatriate Indians,” Vayalar Ravi added.
Stating that he took over as the Overseas Indian Affairs Minister four years back, Vayalar Ravi said that he was aware of some of the problems faced by the NRIs at the Indian missions abroad. “I know the outsourcing of the Indian visa system is faced with some difficulty here in that the office is staffed with employees who do not know any Indian language. There are also some serious difficulties faced by OCI cardholders at the Indian airports. We are working with the Home Ministry and other departments to streamline the OCI card and visa system,” he assured.
Explaining the meaning of an OCI card and a PIO card, he said that there was no proposal for dual citizenship. “An OCI card is just like the green card. A PIO card is issued to a person of Indian origin till third generation. NRIs with the OCI status enjoy all the benefits of an Indian citizen except an elected political position. They cannot contest elections in India,” he added saying jocularly that “we do not want you to waste your money for political campaign and lose an election.”
He also mentioned about the new code of taxation for NRIs, which he could not explain clearly, and said that the Finance Ministry was working on it to make tax rules easy for them. Stating that he was aware that “Mumbai has mafia,” he said that some NRIs were faced with illegal occupation of their properties by mafia-like people. The Ministry of Law and Justice was working to bring out a legislation to give protection to NRIs’ properties. A federal law was needed to protect the properties of NRIs. He also said that a seminar on “Property related problems of NRIs” would be held during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January next year.
Announcing that foreign exchange remittances in India had increased from $33 million last year to $43 millions this year, he said: “NRIs have now more trust in India than in Wall Street.” India enjoyed a “regulated financial system.” It was not a “controlled financial system.” The Indian government stood guarantee for all the deposits. That was why all the deposits were safe. Though there was a “shadow effect” of global recession on India, it was very minimal. Now the US government was looking at India to replicate this “regulated financia system” in this country. With minimal economic slowdown, he said that India would be heading to achieve a 9 percent GDP.
He said that the government was earnestly appealing to NRIs to avail themselves of the vast opportunities available for philanthropy. He said that a not-for-profit organization called the India Development Foundation (IDF) was created through which NRIs could participate in the development of India. Satellite offices of IDF were opened in states like Illinois, New York, Houston, Washington and California in the US, but there was a need to open more in the states where they were not existing. The NRIs could adopt their villages for their development. “A window for philanthropy has been opened to encourage NRIs to give finances for the educational and healthcare programs. As the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was passed, the government would see to it that every child is given education and healthcare. The Indian mid-day meal scheme, which is the biggest in the world, is a great incentive and encouragement for the children to attend schools,” he added. The Minister said that while the southern states were faring well, some of the northern states like Bihar, Bengal and Orissa still remained underdeveloped. There was a lot of scope for philanthropy in these states. He said that in the area of healthcare, Hyderabad of Andhra Pradesh had set an example where 20 million poor people were provided with health cards, which would enable them to seek the best healthcare system in the state. They could go even to a corporate hospital for treatment. The Central government was studying the Andhra Pradesh health card system to replicate it in all other states of the country. The government was working to make basic education and healthcare accessible to all people of India.
Stating that India was the fourth largest economic power in the world, he said that the government was preparing a $490-million public-private partnership investment plan which would be a great opportunity for all the NRIs to take advantage of it. He said: “Even if you do not want to invest in any Indian project, you can still transfer your savings to Indian banks. That would be a great help for the country to take up several developmental projects.”
Paying compliments to expatriate Indians living in the US, he said: “You OCIs, PIOs and NRIs have done a great service by lobbying for the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement. You are politically influential people. You are all good people. Many of you are citizens of this country. But you should also keep up your Indian-ness.”
Assuring that the Indian democracy was going from strength to strength, he said that 700 million people had voted in the parliamentary and various state elections. “Coalition of political power and coalition of governance have come to stay in India. Everybody is participating in the state-level and parliamentary elections. Everyone is sharing the power. Voice of everybody is heard,” he said, and added that soon Parliament would take up the much delayed Women’s Reservation Bill aimed at reserving 50 percent of elected positions in all local bodies for women and one-third reservation for them in state legislatures and in Parliament.
Being a country of young people, he said, India was supplying manpower to the aging countries of the world. India was working with countries seeking them to open their doors for the Indian employees to work there. He said he recently inked an agreement with Denmark, which agreed to provide jobs to Indians. “I am trying for such agreements with some of the countries of the European Union,” he added.
The Minister said that India would shortly launch an electronic “Global-India Network of Knowledge” platform which would be a knowledge bank. Through this knowledge bank, which would be the first of its kind in the world, India would seek, share and exchange knowledge with institutions and individuals all over the world. He appealed to all the NRI experts to lend their support to the project and share their knowledge through this network and help India and other countries.
Stating that he would be readily available and approachable for everyone at all times, he said that he often received pathetic midnight calls from undocumented people stranded in some of the Gulf countries to rescue them and repatriate them back to India.
Making a fervent appeal to all the NRIs to attend the forthcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to be held in New Delhi between January 7 and January 9, he said many important seminars, including seminars on subjects like protection of NRI properties, nanotechnology, and Global-India Networking of Knowledge (Global-INK) were scheduled during these three days.
Vayalar Ravi inaugurated the revamped Web site of the Indian Consulate in Chicago. He also answered questions from the audience.
Earlier, welcoming Vayalar Ravi, his team of officers and invited guests, Ashok Kumar Attri, Consul General of India, introduced the Minister as an “Institution builder,” and paid him handsome compliments. Ashok Kumar Attri said that Vayalar Ravi had a long and distinguished political career, having been first elected to the Fifth Lok Sabha in 1971. He became the Home Minister of Kerala State in 1982 and held many other political positions later. The Consul General especially mentioned how he was helped by Vayalar Ravi in rescuing some of the stranded undocumented people of Indian origin in the Gulf area. Ashok Kumar Artri said that the Minister was responsible for the rescue and repatriation to India of about 18,500 illegal and undocumented Indians from the Gulf countries where many of them were facing serious charges.
Sadhna Shankar, private secretary to the Minister, presented a PowerPoint explaining the salient features of Pravasi Bharati Divas celebration.
Hema Ramamoorthi, social secretary to the Consul General, proposed a vote of thanks.
Union Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi addresses elite community Home Ministry is helping to streamline OCI card and visa system
By J.V. Lashmana Rao