The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) is commonly believed to be a quintessential people's agency, a one-stop address for the overseas Indians. Established four years ago, the Ministry though struggled with fund, it is still proved to be an interactive and contemporary Ministry of the Government of India. Goaded by a larger mission of development through coalitions sans borders, MOIA seeks to connect the matrices of the diaspora story. It is therefore the nodal point which overseas Indians, trade and industry, lawmakers, key stakeholders of society and governance, and state governments, turn to for information, partnerships and facilitation for all matter pertaining to overseas Indians. Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi speaks to Sarat C Das on ministry's endeavour to address the varied expectations of the diverse overseas Indian community.
In 2004, by an amendment to Citizenship Act, the facility of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) was made available to PIOs in 16 countries. Then followed the Citizenship Amendment Act 2005 in August 2005. Do you think more countries would now welcome dual citizenship in India?
Many people, particularly Indians living in US ask me what happened to dual ctitizenship. I am usually little blunt with them: "Sorry, there is no such proposal." We have a People of Indian Origin (PIO) card, which allows visa free entry to Indian origin people living abroad and provides them all the rights enjoyed by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) including purchase of non-agricultural land. Further, the Constitution of India does not allow holding Indian citizenship and citizenship of a foreign country simultaneously. Based on the recommendation of the High Level committee on Indian Diaspora, the Government of India decided to grant Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI). Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) of certain category who migrated from India and acquired citizenship of a foreign country other than Pakistan and Bangladesh, are eligible for grant of OCI as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship in some form or the other under their local laws. Persons registered as OCI can enjoy all the benefits of an Indian citizen except the political rights.
Why two countries - Pakistan and Bangladesh - have been exempted from OCI provision?
Government of India has its own reason.
PIO card is currently benefiting some 300,000 living abroad. The fee of PIO card is US $ 365 for adult and for children below 18 years. Do you plan to reduce this price for people who live in less prosperous countries and economically not sound? A Pakistan Origin card costs only US $ 100!
Well, OCI card is merely US$ 275 and PIO card is US$ 300. It is affordable.
Is not it logical to have different rates for different countries assuming all Indians living overseas have different economic backgrounds - some are prosperous and others are not?
No, we have standardized the rates and there is only a price difference between OCI and PIO card.
The validity of PIO card is 15 years. Do you plan to increase this, possibly making this a life-long card?
No, we don't have any plan on this as yet.
The PIO card holder, if his stay exceeds 180 days, he will have to register within 30 days of the expiry of 180 days with the concerned Foreigners Registration Officer at district headquarters. But this may open up chances for corruption among authorities to harass the holders of PIO card during registration process!
It is a fair and clean system. There is no harassment and no corruption. They have to report about their stay in India for we need to know where they come from and how long they plan to be in India, etc. However, there is no reporting for OCI card.
Today there is a lot of expectation among overseas Indians from your creation of Council for the Promotion of Overseas Employment!
It is a think tank which is going to be registered by the Society Act. We would have a committee with representatives from bureaucrats and NRIs. We will seek employment opportunities for Indians living abroad. For instance, we know there are enough opportunities for Indians in Europe and we will probe into them and make necessary arrangement with concerned countries to place them.
The creation of India Diaspora Knowledge Network has generated a lot of interest among the diaspora!
The body will enable improved connectivity between People of Indian Origin and to allow the large number of overseas Indians to partake in India's growing 'knowledge economy'.
We also have the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) that has been established to assist and facilitate the engagement of these Overseas Indians with India. OIFC is a not-for-profit, public-private partnership between the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Envisioned to function as a one stop-shop for non-resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin, OIFC has a mandate to cover two broad areas such as investment facilitation and knowledge networking.
There is a huge population of Indians in Gulf countries. How do we take care of their interest?
It was a neglected community once upon a time and their lives bordering misery were exploited by the middlemen. Things are under control now. My focus is on the welfare of these people. We have signed MOU with every Gulf countries stipulating a mechanism to address to the grievances of the Indian workers. We are taking steps to address to these workers double taxation liability as well. Every year there are two ministry level meetings take place in Gulf area. We intend to create confidence among Indian workers that there is a ministry to look after you.
How successful has been the launch of helpline as a part of the Overseas Workers Resource Centre?
The OWRC helpline has been envisioned as the first link in a comprehensive system of assistance and protection for Indians working abroad, in need of immediate care and intervention from the government. The helpline provides information, dissemination on matters related to emigration. The helpline can also be used to register and monitor complaints.
You plan to build a PIO University. How is it taking shape?
The PIO University is approved by the Cabinet which reserves seats for PIOs and NRIs. Manipal University has secured the deal from the government to build this institution in Bangalore.
What about Global Advisory Council to draw upon the experience and knowledge of the "best Indian minds"?
It is in the pipeline.
Your government is completing its term within next few months. What do you target to achieve within this short period?
We need to conclude all the decisions that we have taken over the months. We are going at a fast pace.
This year Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) aimed at strengthening the two-way partnership between PIO living abroad and India. How this PBD's stress on engaging overseas Indians in the development of education and health bearing fruit?
We focus on different agenda and this year, our thrust was on investment and partnership for rural development, education and healthcare. Results are positive. For instance, the Association of American of Indian Origin has selected two states for development work. Our idea is to create a development fund where NRIs can help their own villages with support from NGOs.
Would you tell us about your efforts to create mini Pravas Bharatiya Divas in different parts of the world?
Last time we had mini Pravas Bharatiya Divas in New York which met with great success and helped those who cannot come to India. I reckon the success story would repeat.
Earlier, there were less invitees from Gulf countries! Do you plan to reverse the trend?
We invite everybody. Invited speakers to PBD are paid where delegates come in their own expense. This time we will have PBD in Chennai. We made a survey which found people want it to be held every year. PBD is a big gathering of people of Indian origin to understand each other, and it creates a sense of "oneness".