A new PBD is upon us. How do you think the PBD has evolved over the years?
This is going to be the 8th PBD. The broad structure has remained the same. But each time there is something novel, some new outcomes and some new ideas for action emerge from the PBD. This time (2010) we have tried to create more value by holding two pre-PBD events on January 7. One is a discussion on a topic which is of great interest and concern to overseas Indians, namely property related issues affecting the overseas Indians. The other is something of interest primarily for India which is a seminar on nanotechnology which we hope will help both the academic sector as well as the business sector in building further collaboration between the Indian side and the Overseas Indians. Another substantive change this time is the introduction of an annual PBD oration. It is going to be by Professor Jagdish Bhagwati who will be delivering the first PBD Oration over one hour. Normally PBD sessions have a large number of speakers with each speaker being limited by time. The PBD oration by an eminent Overseas Indian would present well construed ideas before the group.
The regional PBD in Europe was a great success, a sell out event. Which region are you targeting next, and in which country will you be holding it?
The proposal that we have before us for hosting the next regional PBD is from South Africa. South Africa is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of arrival of indentured labour in November 2010. The South African Indians have shown a lot of interest in having special events to commemorate the arrival. The provincial Government of Kwa Zulu Natal has also shown very keen interest. As a very special case, we are inviting the premier of Kwa Zulu Natal province to speak at the PBD 2010, even though he is not an overseas Indian. The PBD should be in the second half of 2010.
You have stressed on institution building right from the time you joined the Ministry. Are you satisfied with the way things have shaped up?
Building institutions for interactions with the diaspora is strategically the most important thing for this Ministry. We have built up the investment hub which is the OIFC, the philanthropy hub which is the IDF. I expect the portals to be in operation before the end of the year (2009). The Global Ink is again expected to be fully ready before the end of the year. The Indian Council for Overseas Employment (ICOE) is also functional and has contributed substantially to the study on labour markets and labour situations abroad. Institutional framework is fully or partially functional. Now we propose to strengthen our interaction with the various organizations of overseas Indians, including professional organizations as well as other cultural and regional organizations. This will be done directly by the Ministry.
You have witnessed various associations and organizations of the diaspora functioning in different countries. Some are dysfunctional. Considering that there are too many organizations, what do you think of the role of organizations such as the GOPIO and AAPI…
We have to accept the fact that there will always be multiplicity of organizations. There will never be a single organization that can bring everybody under a single umbrella. That should not create a problem for interacting with various organizations. The disapora is so huge and its spread so wide that the scope of interaction is unlimited. We are of course happy to deal with global organizations like the GOPIO and AAPI.
The NRIs have been asking for voting rights for a long time, on the lines of those available to overseas citizens of other nations. Is there any development?
The amendment bill to the RPA was presented by the Law Ministry in the Rajya Sabha. The standing committee of Parliament has given its recommendations. The bill will now have to go back to Parliament with the Government’s final view on the matter. This should happen without much delay. The proposal was that NRIs can have their names in electoral roles if they are physically present in India.
Several NRIs and PIOs that have invested in real estate and are caught up in legal tangles want fast-track courts to handle their cases. Is there a suggestion on this front to the Government?
The property issues are quite complex, some are of civil nature, some are of criminal nature where there is outright grabbing of property. Some are related to revenue records and land administration. So it is necessary to have different types of solutions. We hope that deliberations at the property issues seminar will help us to have a plan of action. The state Governments have been called to this seminar. The key paper is being presented by Justice Laxmanan, chairman of the Law Commission and former Supreme Court judge. Decisions will emerge after deliberations.
Eventually, will the PBD become a business oriented conference, or will such subjects such as tracing of roots and regional issues continue to find importance?
Anything of importance to overseas Indians will always be discussed at the PBD. But then overseas Indians are diverse, sometimes even more diverse than India itself, and that is a challenge. Often you have to go in for discussion segments that are of interest to certain sections. The effort always is to focus on areas which are of general interest both to Indians and to overseas Indians.
One of the key areas of work for MOIA is in the OIFC. Is it possible to state the volume and worth of MoUs that have been signed?
We don’t look at OIFC from the quantitative angle. Its main job is facilitation and hand holding. The substantial work that OIFC has done since its creation is the answering of queries both investment related and general, relating to overseas Indians. The numbers are impressive. The second stage in respect of many of these is engagement of consultants or actual facilitation of action on ground where other ministries of the Government of India or state Government departments or organizations or even providers of services come into play. We have consciously decided that we will not create a third wheel. We do not want to be following up with people who are implementing their projects, primarily because intervention by a Government agency is a nuisance. The important thing is to provide the service and the facilitation for those who need, as long as they need.
Issues of racist attacks on Indians have been rife in 2009, not just in Australia but elsewhere. As a Ministry that is concerned with Indians overseas how do you sum up the feedback you have received on this?
Attacks on Indians definitely cause a lot of concern to us. There have been quite a few cases in Australia. But such cases have been few in recent months. We do not come in when citizens of another country are involved. We are happy that Australian Government has taken proactive and stringent action. We have had a series of discussions at various levels between Australian and Indian authorities and the number of cases has obviously come down, there has been no major case in the last few months. The agreed diagnosis is that one cause of the problem was the movement of a large number of Indian students for courses in substandard institutions in Australia. The Government of Australia has taken steps to ensure the weeding out of such substantive institutions. We also have a joint working group to discuss various issues involved.
How many OCI card holders do we have till date, and are you satisfied with the progress?
We have five hundred thousand. Yes, the progress is satisfactory. The biggest numbers are from USA, followed by UK and Canada.
The Indian diaspora remits more money to its motherland than any other diaspora. Do you see this trend continuing?
It should continue because now the Indian economy is respected by the rest of the world. The Indian financial system is also considered credible, and, therefore, there is no reason why there should be any lull in remittances. India is a safe place for investment for any form of investment.