PRESS RELEASE- REPORT OF THE HIGH LEVEL COMMITTEE ON INDIAN DIASPORA

In a major initiative, the Government of India had set up a High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, in September 2000 under the Chairmanship of Dr. L M Singhvi, MP, to prepare a comprehensive report on the Indian Diaspora, informing the Indian public of the achievements of the Indian Diaspora, sensitising it to their problems and their expectations from their mother country, proposing a new policy framework for creating a more conducive environment in India to leverage these invaluable human resources - and thus forging stronger ties between the Indian Diaspora and India. In addition to the Chairman, the Members of the Committee are Shri R. L. Bhatia, Shri J. R. Hiremath, Shri Baleshwar Agarwal, and Shri J. C. Sharma, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (Member Secretary).

The terms of reference of the Committee were of the widest amplitude. Its mandate was to make a comprehensive study of the global Indian Diaspora and to recommend measures for a constructive relationship with them. The appointment of the High Level Committee represented a historic first step since our independence.

The observations and conclusions of the Committee would no doubt assist in laying the foundations for a sound framework of policy and approach and for a mutually beneficial and incremental interaction between India and her Diaspora. In India and its Diaspora, there is today, a greater awareness, a deeper engagement and renewed enthusiasm and optimism for the new thresholds of opportunities to relate to India.

The Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora presented today (January 08, 2002) to the Prime Minister, represents the results of all the initiatives and inputs, resulting from extensive first hand talks with overseas Indians, use of case studies and empirical data have enriched and reinforced it. The Report is structured in Five Parts.

Part I contains the Letter of Transmission of the Report to Government by the committee Chairman; the Orders of the Ministry of External Affairs setting up the Committee describing its terms of reference; the Foreword; the Executive Summary and the Acknowledgements.

Part II is a detailed examination of the genesis and particular circumstances of the Indian Diaspora in selected countries and regions. This section concludes with a global perspective of other Diasporas and the nature and extent of their interaction with their countries of origin.

Part III contained the three Interim Reports that were submitted by the Committee to Government some months ago and which have been graciously accepted by our Prime Minister today. These are: the fee reduction in the PIO Card Scheme, celebration of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9 each year and the institution of 10 Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards.

Part IV of the Report includes detailed examination and recommendations on major Diaspora issues in the fields of Consular and related matters, Culture, Economic Development, Investment, International Trade, Industry, Tourism, Education, Health, Media, Science & Technology and Philanthropy. This part of the Report also deals with dual citizenship and the creation of a single window dedicated organisation to interact with the Diaspora.

The Report addresses the question of dual citizenship in considerable depth and detail. The Committee has examined the issue with its various ramifications including legal, constitutional and security aspects. The Committee has recommended to the Government that dual citizenship should be permitted to foreign citizens of Indian descent settled in certain countries, within the rubric of the Citizenship Act.

The Committee received near unanimous requests from all segments of our Diaspora that they would like the Government of India to set up a single-window organisation for interacting with them. The Report recommends the need to identify the lacunae in our present set-up and also the systems, which fall short of the expectations of the Diaspora. It emphasizes the requirement for developing a clearly defined policy and suitably calibrated country-specific plans for enhancing connectivities. The Committee has made detailed recommendations on the structure, nature and functioning of such an organisation that it has proposed to achieve those objectives. The setting up of a Pravasi Bharatiya Bhavan which may also house this proposed new organisation also forms part of the recommendations in Part IV of this Report.

Part V of the Report contains the detailed Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee on the entire gamut of the expectations, needs and requirements of our agenda for the Indian Diaspora.

Other issues covered by the Report are:

1. Improvements at Airports

The Committee feels the need for a friendlier reception at the point of entry of the Diaspora into India. There should be simpler procedures for immigration and customs clearances. Courteous service is essential.

There is special emphasis for improving the facilities, hygiene and cleanliness inside airports. Setting up of transport and accredited hotel facilities close to the airports by well-reputed organisations or individuals should be encouraged.

2. Regulatory requirements of the Government

Dissemination of information regarding the Government's requirements for NRIs/PIOs should be greatly improved so that they are not subjected to avoidable inconvenience. This would be of particular relevance in cases such as the need to obtain a Tax Clearance Certificate prior to departure from India, if the period of stay in the country exceeds 120 days, and the requirement to report to the relevant FRRO if the duration of their visit exceeds 180 days.

3. Welfare of Indian Women married to NRIs/PIOs

The Committee concerned about the need to prevent abuse of Indian women married to NRIs/PIOs has strongly recommend that a special cell should be created in the proposed new organisation to handle Diaspora issues with the mandate to assist in the provision of free legal counseling for the families of girls contemplating marriage to NRIs/PIOs. The bridegroom should be asked to give them an affidavit stating his current marital status. That document should be attached to the application for marriage registration. This should be a mandatory pre-requisite to the issuance of a marriage registration certificate.

4. Problems of Overseas Indian Labour

The Committee has laid special emphasis on implementation of measures to address the problems of our overseas blue-collar workers. These are:
(a) Establishing a welfare fund for repatriated overseas workers in distress;
(b) Negotiating a Standard Labour Export Agreement' with the host countries;
(c) Monitoring and supervision of both the employment contracts, and the conditions of our overseas workers by our Missions;
(d) Launching compulsory insurance schemes covering the risks faced by our overseas workers;
(e) Establishing mechanisms for pre-departure counselling and the provision of legal assistance locally, instituting training programmes for human resource development and skills upgradation;
(f) The Committee recommended that the Member-Secretary of the proposed central Organisation, who will deal with these matters, should elaborate further on legislative and administrative measures to be taken to ensure that these concerns are fully and satisfactorily addressed. This would be in addition to his/her functions as the central nodal point in addressing the specific problems related to overseas blue-collar workers and liaising with the concerned Government departments at the central and State level, our Missions abroad and the workers themselves.

Sector wise recommendations made cover the following areas:

5. Culture

There is a vast divergence in the needs of the different segments of the Diaspora in the field of culture. There is need to adopt a balanced and coordinated approach in responding to those needs. The Committee examined different models and recommended the adoption of the British Council model for the larger demographic centres while the Alliance Francaise model should be used for centres concentrating on the dissemination of Indian languages.

Special measures should be designed to recognise and highlight the achievements of India's French and Dutch speaking Diaspora. Cultural interaction should be increased between India and the Diaspora in Reunion and Guadeloupe.

6. Economic Development (Investment, International Trade, Industrial Development And Tourism)

There is a general consensus in India that investment by Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian origin is desirable. Special measures should be devised to facilitate the involvement of the Diaspora with India in this sector.

There are a large number of internationally renowned experts, of Indian origin who are well positioned in management and financial institutions. They are willing to provide assistance in upgrading skills in management and finance to Indian corporations. Diasporic professionals are working in senior positions in manufacturing industry can be helpful in promoting India as an important destination for out-sourcing. Suitable mechanisms should be devised to avail of such expertise.

Government should also consider setting up Special Economic Zones, exclusively for projects to be set up by NRIs/PIOs. The Diaspora could be involved in the development of such zones. A dedicated single-window set-up, which would provide consultancy services for overseas Indian investors and be a liaison point for getting various clearances, is imperative for the success of this measure.

The Committee noted that some Indian banks have already made special arrangements to facilitate payments in rupees against incoming foreign exchange remittances of labour force in the Gulf region. The Committee feels that similar arrangements should be replicated for the Diaspora in other countries also.

The Committee also noted the high incidence of frauds in the bank accounts of the NRIs/PIOs. It recommends that the instructions of the Reserve Bank of India in this regard should be strictly adhered to by all branches of commercial banks in letter as well as in spirit. NRI deposits should be made directly by the NRIs concerned either in person, through bank transfers or through post/courier. A more foolproof Power of Attorney system should be developed. A fast-track mechanism should be instituted by India to resolve disputes concerning fraudulent transactions. NRIs have grievances regarding their investments in shares and debentures. These basically revolve around delays and procedural lapses. A fast track mechanism to address such complaints should be put in place.

The Government should consider issuing special infrastructure bonds for attracting NRI/PIO investments on the lines of the Israel Bonds. We could usefully adopt several laudable features of the Israel Bonds Scheme.

Extending fiscal incentives, such as reducing corporate tax rates to levels at or below competitive international levels, removing restrictions on repatriation of profits and eliminating needless licensing requirements would be extremely useful in attracting investment.

7. Tourism

The Diaspora can make a significant contribution to the growth of tourism in India. PIOs make frequent visits to their home state or to visit their relatives. There should be greater focus on promoting tourism among 2nd generation PIOs. Special tour packages, pilgrim packages and other packages tailor-made for this section of the Diaspora should be developed and publicised. The proven expertise and strengths of the Diaspora in the hotel, motel and travel sectors can be utilized for development of similar infrastructure in India.

8. Education

This is a field where there is a large reservoir of highly qualified PIOs in senior academic positions in almost every academic institution in countries like the USA, Canada and the UK. A number of them are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to impart to institutions in India. There is a crying need for the development of suitable mechanisms to leverage this extraordinary resource.

Special programmes should be developed, both at school and university level, to cater to the needs of various age groups in all segments of the Diaspora. Concerted efforts should be made to introduce India Studies in universities with a sizeable Indian Diaspora.

9. Health

The PIOs have distinguished themselves in the field of medicine and healthcare in the countries of their settlement. It is felt that it should be possible to attract significant investments from them in the field of health care and medical research.

The Committee feels that tertiary healthcare is highly resource-intensive, as it requires high-tech equipment and diagnostic facilities. The Indian Diaspora can contribute not only to its expansion and improvement but also to its dispersal across the country.

To facilitate and promote the utilization of the expertise of PIO doctors abroad, we should develop an institutional mechanism for interaction between the scientists of Indian origin and scientific organizations in India. Sustained linkages must be encouraged between them especially in areas on the cutting edge of technology.

Hospitals and other healthcare institutions are currently treated in India as "industries". They should be accorded the status of "infrastructure". This is likely to give a boost to NRI/PIO investment in the health sector.

10. Media

Recommendations to activate interaction in the field of media should be implemented at the earliest.
i.      The relevant department of the Indian government should facilitate the establishment of contacts between Indian media and those in countries with a diasporic presence. Indian media should be encouraged to increase linkages with its counterparts.
ii.      A database of ethnic media should be created and maintained specially for countries with a sizeable Indian diasporic presence. This should include print media, radio stations and TV stations and networks.
iii.      India should promote the dissemination of national, regional and international news at low cost to members of the ethnic media in countries with a sizeable PIO population.
iv.      Increased facilities should be provided on a high priority basis to interested PIOs for studies in the field of media in countries with a large Indian Diaspora. The Committee feels that media personnel can contribute greatly to the betterment of India's image abroad in their own countries and, by a trickle down effect, they can improve the perception of India in other countries as well. Given the importance of media in projecting abroad a revitalised image of India, the Committee recommends that, as a concrete measure, the number of seats being provided to media students from the Diaspora in reputed schools of journalism like the Indian Institute of Mass Communication should be doubled. This would allow a much larger number of such students from countries with a high concentration of PIOs to avail themselves of these facilities.
v.      The Committee also endorses the idea that a regular biennial meeting of the diasporic media should be held to increase interactions between Indian media and its counterparts from the Diaspora. The ethnic media from abroad should be invited to attend these meetings at their own expense, while local hospitality limited to a lunch or dinner could be hosted by the Indian media. Such annual meetings could be interlinked with the programmes of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or be scheduled around the investiture ceremony for Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards.

11. Science And Technology

The recommendations of the Committee are founded on the belief that distinguished PIOs abroad are willing to contribute to their country of origin. They have already demonstrated their goodwill with any number of concrete actions. They have also assisted in elevating the international profile and reputation of India's premier S&T institutions and our talented scientists. The recommendations encompass new avenues and frameworks to network with foreign-based Scientists and Technologists of Indian Origin (STIOs) to further consolidate and deepen India's excellence in Science, as well as demonstrate India's appreciation for their invaluable contribution. Programmes should be developed on the pattern of TOKTEN to facilitate involvement of Diaspora scientists and leverage their knowledge, skills and technology to Indian scientists.

Suitable projects should be identified for implementation in specific developed countries. Joint teams of scientists from India and the Diaspora should be asked to work on projects on high national priority.

Research projects should, where possible be subcontracted to India from the developed countries. Such projects should be in the cutting edge of technology.

Eminent scientists should be involved in co-supervision of doctorate or research students in India. They could also undertake joint research projects.

12. Philanthropy

The Committee observed that PIOs/NRIs were eager to donate generously for worthy development causes in India. It further noted that the adverse experiences of many members of the Indian Diaspora in sending donations to India, had led to their diverting subsequent investments to other destinations. The Committee found that a plethora of rules and regulations, indifference and even hostility of the government machinery frustrated the efforts of genuine PIO/NRI philanthropists. The best remedy was to devise a transparent, fair and fast track mechanisms for processing clearances.
a)     Single point for contact with the Diaspora should be accorded the highest priority. b)    The proposed organisation should be allowed to form a foundation to receive charitable and philanthropic donations. It should be allowed to generate funds through sponsorships from private individuals and corporations. c)    The Committee recommends the early simplification of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 1976, to enable India to receive more remittances from PIOs for philanthropic activities. Donations from PIOs/NRIs should be placed either under an automatic route or under a Fast Track Mechanism, on the condition that these should be only for secular and developmental purposes and should be for PIO cardholders only.
d)    At the State level, the offices to be created for dealing with the Diaspora must be empowered to deal with harassment cases and also be able to process efficiently PIO/NRI applications for donations and assist in the implementation of such projects.
e)    The list of educational and health institutions eligible for automatic registration without enquiry should be expanded and updated in order to provide an additional stimulus to the health and educational services sector in India.
f)    Exemption of customs duty on all donated materials, especially for national emergencies, should be immediately effected.
g)    Income tax exemptions on donations by overseas Indians from their incomes in India for developmental/ secular/ educational/ medical purposes should be raised to 100%.
h)    The provision that foreign contributions can be received in only one designated bank account and cannot be transferred to other parts of the country should be liberalised. Registered NGOs should have the facility to transfer their funds for their activities anywhere in the country with only a reporting requirement to the RBI/ Ministry of Home Affairs.
i)    Programmes to encourage idealistic PIO/NRI students, who wish to come to India for voluntary work, should be institutionalized.
k)    To enable donation of services, such as those of skilled doctors, scientists, teachers, architects, lawyers and engineers, a special fast track mechanism for recognition of degrees and qualifications should be instituted through the concerned bodies.

13. Pravasi Bharatiya Bhavan

The idea of setting up a Pravasi Bhartiya Bhavan is intended to commemorate the trials and tribulations, the achievements and successes of the Indian Diaspora. It would be recognition of the universal aspiration of the Diaspora to retain its cultural identity and civilisational ethos. It would house archives, a library and a permanent exhibition of the Diaspora. To provide a sense of involvement to the Diaspora in its construction, a competition to elicit the most appropriate design for the Bhavan has been recommended by us, in which architects from India and the Diaspora would be eligible to participate.

14. Standing Committee of Parliament

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Indian Diaspora should be constituted. It should have in it, members with an interest in Diaspora affairs. This Committee could also act as focal point for interaction with Parliamentarians of Indian Origin in other countries.

January 8, 2002

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