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Indo-Germans upset at Bonn mission closure

Four years after the Indian consulate shifted to Munich, Indians here are still upset about the move and say they continue to be inconvenienced.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2006 15:53 IST

Four years after the Indian consulate shifted to Munich, Indians in this German city are still upset about the move and say they continue to be greatly inconvenienced.

Said industrialist T M Jacob: "Bonn, in the North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), accounted for 45 percent of the total consular services rendered by the Indian mission in entire Germany."

"It (the mission) can be retained here without entailing additional investments unlike the present arrangements in Munich," Jacob said.

Of around 40,000 Indians in Germany, more than 18,000 live in NRW, which has districts like Bonn, Cologne, Dortmund and Dusseldorf.

"There are only a few Indians in Munich. People in this region now have to travel as long as seven hours to Munich to get any paperwork done from the mission," Jacob added.

The issue was raised again when Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi visited Germany last week as part of his six-day Europe tour that also took him to Austria and Switzerland.

Reiterating their concerns over the issue they have been raising since 2001, community representatives submitted a memorandum to Ravi, who in turn gave an assurance that he would take up the matter with the ministry of external affairs.

The Indians living in Bonn pointed out that though the federal capital had shifted to Berlin, many key offices, including ministries, remained in this city.

"The NRW is a major business centre in Germany. Due to its (the mission's) proximity, the business community in NRW was able to develop a close and productive link with the commercial section in Bonn. So the closure of the mission here has a negative impact on trade," stated the memorandum.

"On the other hand, shifting the consular section from Bonn to Munich does not bring any additional advantage. But it imposes considerable hardship on NRIs (non-resident Indians) and business community of NRW," Joy said.

"Certain vested interests took the decision - despite the previous assurances to keep the consular service in Bonn - in connivance with their cronies in the ministry also to move the consular section to Munich, detrimental to the interests of over 24,000 NRIs," the memorandum alleged.

The other issue exercising the community here is the fate of the empty building that housed the mission.

Some members allege that "vested interests" are trying to get hold of the heritage building on the banks of the Rhine owned by the Indian government.

Indians here are of the view that the government could open a cultural centre inside the building.

"Why should we give up such a beautiful building at a key location? We have been pleading with them to start a cultural centre here," said Amaresh Gupta, a scientist living in Germany for more than three decades.

"Now many Indian government services operate from offices that had been taken on rent. Why can't they shift to our building and save money?" asked Jacob.

The Indians alleged that the consular services had been shifted to Munich to "please a few businessmen and relatives of some former officials in the consulate".

"We have information that some Indian businessmen are trying to get the building at a cheap rate. I think the Indian government should not fall prey to their tricks," said Jacob.

The government explained the move in a Lok Sabha question in February this year.

It said the temporary office in Bonn - after the shifting of embassy to Berlin in 1999 - "dealing with residual consular and administrative matters was maintained in Bonn up to June 2002, and was wound up with the opening of the new Consulate General of India in Munich".

"Since it was not found possible to put the building to efficient use in a cost effective manner, the government of India has decided to sell the property in the best interests of the Government.

A number of other countries have already sold their diplomatic properties that were located in Bonn," Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma had said in the reply.

First Published: Sep 18, 2006 15:53 IST