The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), website: , is not new to many of us. It is a vibrant social non-profit organization to serve the interest of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and the People of Indian Origin (PIOs). As you will know that the GOPIO President elect Mr. Inder Singh had visited Bruxelles some time back and approached us (those whom he could meet) to open a GOPIO Belgium Chapter. Now, on his request I have taken the responsibility to initiate the process with the hope that we all join together to form this body. To many NRI friends and PIOs to whom I have spoken, they have appreciated this move and have expressed desire to associate themselves. It is in this spirit that I am approaching you to join the GOPIO Belgium Chapter.

On the activities and achievements of GOPIO, I would like to inform you that it was GOPIO which campaigned for better appreciation and recognization of NRIs and PIOs and a High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora was set up by the Indian Foreign Ministry in September 2000 under the Chairmanship of Dr L.M. Singhvi, Member of Parliament. The Indian Government has welcomed the final report of the Singhvi Committee on the Indian Diaspora and has promised to implement its recommendations. These include dual citizenship as well as an extensive range of economic and cultural schemes.

It is estimated that the Indian Diaspora numbers 20 million across 110 countries and is worth $300 billion in annual income, comparable to India's GDP. There are ten countries with more than 500,000 people of Indian origin. The commission has recommended dual citizenship for residents of selected countries and within the provisions of the Indian Citizenship Act. The proposed legal framework for dual citizenship is based on the UK model. The provision would initially only apply to Indians who are residents of Europe the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. a vibrant social non-profit organization to serve the interest of Non-Resident Indians and the PThese countries, in which seven million Indians reside, are already familiar with the concept of dual citizenship. But Indians in other countries - such as Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Malaysia - would only be eligible for a Person of Indian Origin identity card, which carries certain privileges. Dual citizenship as recommended by Singh would not involve voting rights, but only economic rights. Citizens of another country could not vote or stand in Indian elections. It would bar Non Resident Indians and PIOs from entry into India's civil service and military forces. Nor would dual citizenship allow overseas Indians to purchase agricultural property in India, something which is covered by state laws. Those qualified will be eligible for a Dual Citizenship Indian passport valid for periods of ten years. But there would be no automatic conferral of status and each application would be carefully scrutinized.

As a follow-up to the recommendations of the Diaspora Committee the Government of India is going to organize a three-day Conference to celebrate Pravasi Bhartiya Divas from January 9 to 11, 2003. This will be the first time ever that India officially engages with its 20 million strong diaspora. The January 9 which will be annually celebrated as the Pravasi Divas, was the day that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915. Further, the Government has accepted for the institution of 10 Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Awards. These are some of the remarkable achievements of GOPIO.

The report also has many recommendations to facilitate economic investment: Setting up of Special Economic Zones exclusively for Non Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin, Streamline advice and consultancy services for NRIs and PIOs, A fast-track mechanism to address grievances from NRI investors, Special infrastructure bonds which could be used to fund hospitals, Tax exemptions on foreign donations to health, educational and related causes: the Foreign Contribution Act of 1976 would have to be revised to ease philanthropic donations, Lower corporate taxes and easier arrangements for repatriating profits.