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Minister promises to solve OCI card problems

November 12, 2009 18:43 IST
Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi says he is aware of the problems Indian expatriates face when they travel to India with their Overseas Citizen of India cards. Some expatriates have complained that Indian immigration authorities harass them when they arrive in India with their OCI cards.

Speaking at a reception and dinner in his honour hosted by Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indian embassy, which was also attended by Indian-American community leaders in the Washington, DC area, Ravi said, "I know the problems with the OCI card, I got complaints, I have talked to the prime minister and home minister about this."

He explained that most often "the immigration officials may not understand... because the OCI card is in English. Many immigration officials may not know proper English, and the OCI card is not in Hindi -- which is another problem. Consequently these immigration officials err on the side of caution asking for the original passport where the life-long visa is pasted."

Ravi said the best way to overcome this problem and avoid any harassment was for OCI card holders to carry their passports along with the stamped visa or visa sticker with their OCI card.

He appealed to the audience to carry their old passports, which had the visa stamps, with them. He said this problem was not something that existed earlier, but had come about recently "because we don't want unwanted persons, misusing the travel documents, to reach India."

Implying that there was a security component involved, the minister said, "after the Mumbai incident, the government and the home ministry have become stringent in their security screening." Ravi said this was "not to harass anybody," and pleaded for some understanding on this issue.

Ravi welcomed any suggestions to work around this problem." He said the OCI card was one of the best schemes as it was a life-long visa which let NRIs travel, stay and do business in India. "So, this is the best opportunity," he added, but said to peals of laughter, "only one point, there is no political side... we are very conscious. We don't want you people in America to sell your property, come to India, contest elections, (and) lose your deposits."

Ravi exhorted Indian-Americans to attend the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which will be organised in New Delhi between January 7 and 9.

At the outset of his remarks, Ravi lauded the contributions of Indian-Americans to their homeland and said in particular that the role of the community on behalf of the US-India civilian nuclear deal was invaluable in getting it approved in the US Congress.

He acknowledged the controversy it had provoked in India, but said in the final analysis the government prevailed and the Congress party's landslide victory that returned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to power showed that the mandate of the people were fully with his decision to press on with the consummation of the nuclear deal.

Ravi said that once this agreement got into gear it would be integral to help address India's acute energy needs because depending on coal to fuel India's growth was not sustainable.

The minister also spoke on issues like climate change and argued that while India was committed to being a part of the solution to limit carbon dioxide emissions, it would not do so at the expense of development. He maintained that India's carbon emissions were still very much lower that that of the developed countries.

Ravi said the government was committed to rural development and was sensitive to food security and water security and the needs of the farmers. He said the government, following the spate of suicides by farmers and in the wake of a bad monsoon, had allocated several thousand million rupees to improve the lot of farmers and would continue to be sensitive to their needs. "The Indian growth rate can be sustained only by the farmers," Ravi said.

The minister pointed out that while India was not immune from the global financial crisis, it had survived because of the regulated economy that had come into being thanks to the "regulatory framework" set up by the Indira Gandhi government.

"Today, people in India have confidence in their banking system," he said, and pointed to the fact that America was now thinking of setting up a similar regulatory framework, particularly in the banking sector to prevent the kind of activities American banks had pursued that led to the failure of many banks.

He detailed the ambitious India Development Foundation his ministry had set up to facilitate overseas Indian investment in rural India and acknowledged that many expat Indians had said that "sending money is not the problem, getting permission from the Reserve Bank of India is the problem."

"This Foundation," Raci said, "will give an opportunity to every overseas Indian to do whatever he wants to do in his village." However, he said these exemptions and RBI facilitation would be exclusively geared to education and healthcare development and women's empowerment by helping to finance self-employment.

If overseas Indians created infrastructure by building these schools, he said the government would take care of providing "the teachers and the blackboards." Even his native Kerala -- which boasted of the highest number of schools and literacy -- Ravi added, was not immune from a dearth of schools in its villages, particularly primary schools and also primary healthcare.

This year's Pravasi Bharatiya Divas will feature seminars on nano technology and property- related issues for overseas Indians. On the issue of the encroachment of properties owned by overseas Indians, which, he said, was a perennial complaint, Ravi said, "we will find a solution, either a federal law if necessary. I can try and persuade the government to make such a law."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC