By Kul Bhushan
Indians abroad will make news in India with the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD-India Diaspora Day) in New Delhi Jan 7-9. The 25 million non-resident Indians (NRIs) sent $70 billion to India in 2012, with the figure expected to rise to more than $80 billion for 2013. This far exceeds India’s foreign direct investment (FDI) at $47 billion in 2011.
In June 2013, the NRI bank deposits stood at $71.07 billion, according to the Reserve Bank of India data. This is an increase of 21 percent over the previous year. The NRIs took benefit from a weaker rupee at this time and sent their cash to India to earn higher interest than in the countries where they live.
No wonder they want more facilities and more say in their welfare and in Indian affairs. PBD was the response with a special ministry for their concerns.
First of all, the NRIs who visit Indian frequently wanted long-term stay permits and the Indian government introduced a PIO scheme with a 20-year visa. Then, the Indian government extended it to granting dual citizenship with some conditions, calling it the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card that allows them to live in India as long as they want plus get other benefits like owning property and working. The OCI scheme was launched at PBD 2006 and 1.3 million OCI cards have been issued up to July 2013. The maximum of 520,055 OCI cards were issued to Indians living in the US, followed by 307,822 in Britain and 133,755 in Australia and 114,748 in Canada. But London topped all cities with 214,500 cards followed by New York at 174,396 and San Francisco at 119,125.
Overseas Indians with Indian passports can also vote in elections but only in person. This was also announced at a PBD. Making a special trip to India to vote is too much for most NRIs. So they requested a postal ballot. With general elections coming in a few months, this demand becomes more pertinent and thus is likely to be voiced again.
A major NRI problem relates to the court cases for their properties in dispute by their friends and relatives. These cases, estimated at around 10,000, drag on for years and years. So NRIs want fast track courts to conclude them superfast, especially with high property prices in India.
More significantly, they want at least two NRIs nominated to represent them in the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. Why? Because they have a stake in India as they support their families and invest in and support welfare schemes in India with their remittances. As 40 per cent of their remittances help in the household expenses of their dependents, they want a say in the government.
PBD 2014 focusses on NRI youth. The ministry of overseas Indian affairs has been running for some years a ‘Know India Programme’ for youth to discover the land of their ancestors. Youths come to India and visit different regions to get to know the land. This time, the ministry has invited around 50-60 NRI youths and a hundred Indian youths for the conference to interact with one another and participate in the proceedings as well. The main focus, however, is still investing in India.
The ministry has authorized the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to organize the conclave from last year and some improvement has been visible. Along with the main PBD, there are similar NRI meetings, most notably, the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). After PBD, some states like Gujarat will hold their own NRI conferences as many states have an NRI ministry to cater for their needs.
The PBD is inaugurated by the prime minister and the closing session is addressed by the president when the much awaited Pravasi Bhartiya Awards are presented to NRIs for their outstanding contributions. This is a sensitive issue as many NRIs are disappointed and claim that a particular state always gets the most awards and the most deserving persons are ignored. Perhaps this year will be no different.
What NRIs take away from this PBD remains to be seen.