Permanent Mission of India
Speech by H.E. Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador & Permanent Representative of India
to UN offices and other International Organziations in Geneva
during the Reception on the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Observance
[1830 hrs; 9 January 2017, PMI, Geneva]
Distinguished Members of the Indian Community,
Ambassador Virander Paul, Deputy Permanent Representative of India to UN; Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill, Ambassador & Permanent Representative of India to Conference on Disarmament; and Friends,
At the outset, I extend a very warm welcome to all of you. I also take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.
As you are aware, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has been celebrated every year in India since its inception in 2003 with participation of dynamic Indian Diaspora from across the world.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a historic occasion. It was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘Sarva Shreshtha Pravasi Bharatiya’, returned to India from South Africa, led India's freedom struggle and changed the lives of Indians forever. The PBD has been an extremely useful platform for the people and the Government of India to renew and strengthen the bonds with the Indian diaspora.
I am fortunate to have witnessed this profound transformation during my previous assignments across three Continents, particularly, as Consul-General of India in Durban, Frankfurt and Atlanta, and as Ambassador in Zimbabwe. As CG in Durban, I had over a million Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in our jurisdiction. As CG in Atlanta, I had over 350,000 PIOs/NRIs in our jurisdiction. I pioneered the outsourcing of our visa services as CG in Frankfurt and as CG in Atlanta. It was useful and encouraging to interact and assist the Indian diaspora in these postings.
As you know that the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was inaugurated in Bengaluru by Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on 8 January 2017. The Prime Minister of Portugal, H.E. Mr. Antonio Costa, who was the Chief Guest at the PBD, received the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman.
Let me quote from PM’s statement on the Indian diaspora :
“….Their achievements, the name they have earned in their own societies and globally, are a great inspiration for all of us.
It also reflects the success, glory and enterprise of Indian diaspora the world over.
There are over 30 million Overseas Indians living abroad. Their footprint is all over the world. But, Indians abroad are valued not just for their strength in numbers. They are respected for the contributions they make – to India and to the societies and countries where they live in foreign lands and communities across the globe, irrespective of the path they take, and the goals they pursue, the Indian diaspora represents the best of Indian culture, ethos and values. Their hard-work, discipline, law-abiding and peace loving nature are role models for other immigrant communities abroad.
आप की प्रेरणा कई, उद्देश्य अनेक, मार्ग विभिन्न, मंजिलें तमाम लेकिन भाव एक -भारतीयता। प्रवासी भारतीय जहां रहे उसे कर्मभूमि माना,जहां से आए उसे मर्मभूमि माना। प्रवासी भारतीय जहां रहे वहां का विकास किया और जहां के हैं वहां भी असीम योगदान किया।
प्रवासी भारतीयों में देश के विकास के लिए अदम्य इच्छाशक्ति है; वे देश की प्रगति में एक स्टेकहोल्डर है हमारी विकास यात्रा में आप हमारे एक VALUABLE PARTNER हैं। भारत के BRAIN DRAIN को BRAIN GAIN में बदलने के हमारे प्रयासों में आप सहभागी है।..”
Prime Minister also added that he himself has travelled to several countries, especially those with large Indian diaspora. He also praised the outstanding contribution made by them in various fields. He emphasized that whether it was the loss of passports, need for legal advice, medical assistance, shelter or even transportation of mortal remains to India, the Indian embassies have been proactive to address problems of Indian nationals abroad.
He also stated that in fact, to assist Indian diaspora, there are 24X7 helplines opened by Indian embassies; Open House meetings with Indian nations; consular camps; twitter seva for passport services; and use of social media platforms for immediate access are some of the measures to assist the Indian diaspora.
Also, in last two years, the Government of India has facilitated repatriation of over 90,000 nationals from nearly 54 countries. Through Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), assistance has been given to more than 80,000 Indian nationals who were in contingency situation. As Prime Minister stated that our motto is : “सुरक्षित जाएँ, प्रशिक्षित जाएँ”.
Prime Minister also announced that the Government has extended the deadline for all Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Card holders to convert their PIO Cards to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card to 30th June 2017. He also invited overseas scientific community to participate and contribute to research and development in India under the scheme where an overseas Indian can work for one to three months in an institution in India.
As you may be aware, to facilitate to Indian diaspora, the Prime Minister inaugurated on October 2, 2016 the Pravasi Bhartiya Kendra in New Delhi to serve as the focal point of institutional framework for overseas Indians and develop into a hub of activities for sustainable and symbiotic engagement between India and the diaspora.
Recently, the Central Board of Excise and Customs released a multi-lingual Mobile App “Indian Customs-Guide to Travellers” to keep international visitors informed about baggage rules. It is available in English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada. Details have been put up on our website.
The Ministry of External Affairs has on December 26, 2016 issued Gazette notifications announcing new Passport rules to streamline, liberalize and ease process of issue of travel documents and befit the citizens of India. The policy changes have been put up on our website.
To ease travel to India, the Government of India has liberalized the Visa regime. E-Tourist Visa and E-Business Visa can now be used for short term travel, i.e., 60 days with double entry for tourist and business purposes with immediate effect.
The Reserve Bank of India, in wake of demonetization, announced on January 2, 2017 that NRI citizens who are abroad and could not deposit old notes between November 9-December 30, 2016, can exchange their defunct notes upto June 30, 2017. This facility would be available through RBI offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Nagpur.
Each of you should consider participating more in India’s development process through knowledge transfer, innovation and adaptation of solutions to fit them to the Indian context. In this process, I welcome you all to stay connected with the Mission and provide your valuable thoughts and ideas.
Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest pravasi, had utilized the experiences and skills acquired during his stay abroad to lead Indians to freedom. It will certainly be a fitting tribute to the Mahatma for the Indian diaspora to be part of India’s development.
I, once again, thank you for joining the observance of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Geneva.