GLOBAL ORGANIZATION OF PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN (GOPIO)

GOPIO BELGIUM

69, Boulevard Louis Mettewie (bte 18), B-1080 Brussels, Belgium

 

Tel. & Fax: +32 (0)2469 2677 Web: http://www.gopio-belgium.be E-mail: sunil.prasad@coditel.net

 

 

 

 

 

GOPIO/03/31                                                                                                                            22 September 2003

 

Hon’ble Mr. Yashwant Sinha

Union Minister for External Affairs

Government of India

New Delhi

Dear Hon’ble Yashwant Sinhaji,

The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), Belgium wishes to submit to you the following:

We are happy to learn that the Government of India is organizing the Second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas from 9-11 January 2004. The celebration of the First Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January this year was a historic occasion which marked the beginning of a new chapter between India and the Indian Diaspora. In future, the PBD should aim at strengthening the emerging policy framework for a constructive and productive engagement between India and the Indian Diaspora. Although the global Indians are being recognized in every corner of the world for success in their chosen fields, there exists a gap between the Global Indian Society and India. This MEMORANDUM highlights the issues that are increasingly being seen as vital to reconnect India with the Indian Diaspora. The GOPIO Belgium hopes that the Indian Government will address this with all seriousness.

1. Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Involvement of GOPIO

Out of 2000 NRIs/PIOs who participated in the PBD, a majority of them were either members of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) or were connected with organizations who closely work with GOPIO. The GOPIO has been engaged in addressing the concerns of the NRI/PIO in their countries of settlement and to utilize the expertise of Indian expatriates for the benefit of the people in India and the countries where the PIO are settled. The GOPIO has proved beyond doubt that it is the only world-wide organization which is exclusively serving the interest of NRIs/PIOs. It was GOPIO which for years campaigned for recognizing the importance of NRIs/PIOs and for constituting a Commission on Indian Diaspora and it has had the proud privilege of making major contribution to the recommendations of the Commission. Yet, the GOPIO’s role was undermined by not involving it in the initial planning and designing of the Celebration. The whole objective of connecting with the Diaspora seems misplaced without the active participation of the organizations representing the NRIs/PIOs. The government of India is aware of the services the GOPIO has been doing for India’s benefit. During April/May when former President Mr. K. R. Narayanan visited Europe and US, he applauded GOPIO for its yeoman services to India and to the Indian Diaspora. The Belgium Chapter of the GOPIO International, would urge upon you to associate the GOPIO International in the planning of the PBD and other such activities as a matter of policy and principle in order to create better understanding, sensitivity and coordination amongst the NRIs/PIOs worldwide.

2. Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship has been one of the standing demands of the Diaspora and we welcome the announcement made by the Prime Minister and the steps so far taken by the government in this respect. The Indian Diaspora in Belgium strongly feels that the dual citizenship would result in their playing bigger role by way of investment and other economic and social benefits to India. Today, the Indian Diaspora numbers over 20 million spread far and wide and their annual income of $160 billion happens to be a third of India’s GDP. GOPIO Belgium requests the Government of India to accelerate the process of framing the administrative regulations and procedure for granting the dual citizenship to the NRIs/PIOs and include all European Union countries in the “dual citizenship” policy framework.

3. Greater Participation by the Diaspora

The Indian Diaspora has been an important factor in India’s relations with other countries. The impressive Diaspora can play an important role in promoting India’s interest abroad. This is more so in the fields of culture, education, economic development and arts. The NRIs have great reputation for enterprise and intelligence and Indians are leaders in areas like information technology. The NRI remittances have influenced the Indian economy for many decades and since the economic liberalization in 1991, an even greater potential is seen in India’s relations with the Diaspora. The GOPIO Belgium would urge the government to fasten the economic reform and allow the participation of private sector in the development process. To achieve the desired pace of reforms, the government needs a strong political conviction and a firm economic policy, and the Diaspora is prepared to give its input. Although the Diaspora, particularly the NRIs, cannot herald fundamental changes nor can it force the transformation, it can certainly make its presence felt in the mind of the policy makers and remind them of the enormous challenges India faces. The voice of NRIs in Indian political system is absent and the GOPIO Belgium requests the Government of India its suggestions as constructive and valuable.

4. More Economic Initiatives Needed

India could attract more Foreign Direct Investment if procedural delays are cut down. The dual citizenship is not automatically going to bring in more investment; at the most it may bring in emotional investment. A conducive investment climate has to be created for investor’s confidence. The expertise of NRI’s in management, finance, corporate, trade and banking sectors should be tapped in for economic rejuvenation of India. The Diaspora’s presence in their countries of settlement has also catalyzed demand for Indian goods and services ranging from food to fashion. There was tremendous response when the Government came up with Resurgent India Bond and India Millennium Deposits. The Government may wish to come up with more such schemes to attract NRI investment.

5. Investment Policies should be Made Easier

The NRIS/PIOs in the European Union would like to invest in the knowledge-based industries, financial services, education, tourism, health care, media, etc. Several overseas Indians in the past have burnt their fingers in investing in projects in India as they have wound their way through the plethora of laws and regulations that govern industrial enterprises. Procedural and bureaucratic delays have made it difficult to implement their programmes. Many a well-to-do NRIs/PIOs would like to set up small business in their native places. State governments have schemes to woo investment, but few have shown great success. There is also little protection in case of fraud or cheating in financial or land matters. GOPIO Belgium would urge the Government of India to ask different States to formulate transparent investment and investor friendly industrial policies.

6. Promoting Tourism Industry

The tourism industry in India has great potential and needs to be explored and exploited. Unfortunately lack of facilities in most tourism destinations is a major hindrance to the industry. Infrastructural facilities including better rail services and air connectivity should be made available. The NRIs/PIOs abroad can give India enormously helpful suggestions on this. Indian Tourism Offices outside India do not market India - on the contrary, they provide you with reasons why you shouldn't travel to India. This must change and Embassies, High Commissions and functionaries of the government of India abroad need to become “user-friendly” and sensitive to NRIs/PIOs concern.

The private healthcare sector needs a boost and India can promote this sector as “high-tech healthcare tourist destination”. India can become the destination of world class medical treatment and Government must encourage trade in medical tourism. Demand for medical tourism is most likely to come from the 20 million strong Indian Diaspora as wealthy first and second generation expatriate Indians are aware of the rise of India’s high quality low cost medical treatment.

India lives within every NRIs/PIOs in their hearts and in their soul and they would not like to be treated specially on arrival in India, but their experiences have been very disappointing. Tourist friendly attitude of the custom and immigration officials at the airports will help lure tourists in India. The Government should consider upgrading the facilities at the International airports including improving efficiency, productivity and work culture. The GOPIO requests the government of India to grant permission to NRIs to travel to India by chartered flights. We would also urge the Government to allow the PIO card holders to avail the Apex Travel Fares/promotional fares facilities provided by different national Airlines for travel within India.

7. Helping PIOs to find their Roots

There are many PIOs particularly living in Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, etc. who would like to “re-discover” their places of birth and other information concerning their family roots. The information, sometimes in Archives and other government departments in their countries, are little or inadequate. The information registered in their respective countries about them is so meager that it is unhelpful in making any progress in discovering their roots. Most of these PIOs left India by ships as indentured labourers from ports in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The GOPIO Belgium would request the Government of India to host a Website exclusively for the PIOs with details and particulars concerning the migrants, their port of embarkation, destination, original village, etc from information stored in archives in India. The Website should include the assistance (document/search, local transport, guides/district administration, etc.) which the Government is ready to provide to PIO's traveling to India in search of their roots. The State governments should ask its district administrations to help and co-operate with PIOs seeking information about their ancestor roots providing them with administrative assistance. This will go a long way to help PIOs from other countries to explore their roots and eventually meaningful reunification to establish links with their own.

8. Nearly Half a million are without Legal Status

The Indian Diaspora, make up just 1.7 per cent of the total population of India and out of the 20 million living outside the borders of India, only an estimated 3.5 million are well settled in life. However, they are a powerful voice wherever they are. There are about half a million Indians in Europe who are without any legal status for years. Their legalization will help India socially as well as economically. The GOPIO would request you to take up this issue with the European Union and also with the governments of various European countries.

9. Reciprocal Pension Policy Required

When a person from India comes to work in Belgium and even if the person has worked for two years and left the job, the person’s social security fund is not returned and according to the Belgian law the person would be eligible to get his/her social security benefits only when he/she attains the age of 65. The nature of the temporary movement of professionals including changes in their own resident status in their working lives, make it difficult for them to keep pursuing their own paid contribution towards the Social Security and Pension refund with the result that millions of Euros have been left unpaid to the persons; and in most cases it is lost. This is in fact a loss to India’s exchequer. The Indian Government does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the Belgian Government. The GOPIO Belgium would urge upon you to take up this with the Belgian Government for a reciprocal Pension and Taxation Policy.

10. Driving License Exchange agreement

Until few years ago, Belgium had an agreement with India for exchange of Driving License issued in India. For reasons unknown to us this facility has been withdrawn. With increasing number of Indians coming to Belgium for work and other business opportunities, they have difficulty in acquiring a Driving License in Belgium.

11. Air India Net-work

The GOPIO Belgium would request the government of India to consider Brussels in the Air India services network. To start with, a weekly or by-weekly flight would be welcome.

12. “India Week” in Belgium

GOPIO Belgium urges the Government of India to organize “India Week” cultural-cum-business event on sectors such as information technology, tourism, infrastructure, broadcasting, financial services, healthcare and trade. The Business events should also showcase India’s progress in the economic arena and should highlight the potential for India-Belgium economic co-operation and growth. Such an “India Week” Celebration in various cities of Belgium displaying India’s rich history, culture, tradition will further cement its ties with the people of Belgium.

Sir, the GOPIO Belgium is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian National Chapter of the GOPIO International (www.gopio.net) and is engaged in promoting well being of Non-Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin (NRIs/PIOs) living in Belgium. The GOPIO, in association with the Indian Embassy, has planned to organize an Investors Seminar “India: Opportunities Unlimited” on 4th December 2003. The Seminar aims to generate awareness about the dynamism of Indian economy and investment opportunities in India and its potential to become one of the largest economies of the world. We thank the Indian Embassy and the Government of India for their help, support and assistance in this. We would also like to take the opportunity to compliment the Embassy for portraying well India’s image and improving its trade and economic relations with the European Commission.

 

With Kind regards,

 

Yours sincerely,

Sunil Prasad

President, GOPIO Belgium

 

CC: His Excellency P. K. Singh, Ambassador of India, Brussels.