India proposes to open an NRI centre in Washington to "encourage, instigate and provoke" Indian Americans to become partners in the progress of their native country, according to visiting Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs Vayalar Ravi.
Working under the Indian ambassador, the proposed centre is to provide assistance to overseas Indians who wish to invest in or contribute in some way to the economic development of India, as also help Indians abroad in distress, he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Ravi, who is on his first visit to the United States since assuming office in January, said a parliamentary standing committee was considering a proposal to extend voting rights to Indians working abroad by removing the six-month residence requirement for enrolment as voters.
While the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Indian Citizen (OIC) certificates did not exactly offer dual citizenship, it was almost amounting to that as its holders will be treated practically as Indians, he said.
Asked what New Delhi was doing to channelise investments from Indians abroad, Ravi said under the liberalised regime, states have full freedom to invite overseas investment and in fact a healthy competition was developing among them.
His own ministry too would facilitate NRI investments in various states as also in 125 Export Processing Zones by offering a five-year tax holiday, single window clearances and other facilities.
The government was also trying to curb the menace of fake marriages by NRIs by launching awareness drives with the involvement of panchayats (village councils) to educate people about the need to be careful before entering into such relationships.
The states too had been asked to set up special cells to extend help in making proper inquiries.
Asked about the controversy surrounding the annual Pravasi Bhartiya Divas Awards, Ravi said a high-level committee headed by the vice president would choose the winners for the next event to be held in Delhi, and he was hopeful, the persons selected would be acceptable to all.
The minister said he had witnessed a visible change in the attitude of Indian Americans during his interactions with the community in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando, Florida and in the American capital on this trip.
First, they are now more confident and assertive. Second, they demonstrate a commitment and enthusiasm towards their country of origin, Ravi said.
Having done their little bit for the India-US nuclear deal, they all want to contribute in more ways towards India's progress.
Ravi, whose fortnight-long visit to the US was to take him to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Orlando, Washington DC, New York and Chicago, has had a packed schedule including participation in conventions of people of Indian origin from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Gujarat.
Ravi also addressed the general body meeting of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the second largest physicians' organization in the USA, in Atlanta.
The minister is scheduled to have a series of meetings with Indian community members in New York later on Thursday.
On Friday, he will inaugurate the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for International Harmony and Peace at New Jersey and open the International Gujarati Convention at New Jersey.
Ravi returns to India on July 9 after another meeting with the Indian community in Chicago.