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Voting rights, social security for NRIs assured
New Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS):
Published on 8 Jan. 2010 10:23 PM IST
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Voting rights by next general elections and social security to tide over economic distress were the highlights of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurances to non-resident Indians Friday as he asked the vast diaspora to tap the opportunities their country of origin now offers. “I recognise the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India,” the prime minister told the annual conclave for the Indian diaspora. “We are working on this issue and I sincerely hope that they will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections,” he said at the eighth edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. “In fact, I would go a step further and ask why more overseas Indians should not return home to join politics and public life as they are increasingly doing in business and academia.” India’s principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, said it would welcome voting rights for non-resident Indians, adding this was first mooted when it headed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “It is a good idea,” said party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “But this will require a lot of homework and constitutional amendment. We also have to address the issue of dual citizenship,” Naqvi told IANS. The prime minister said security of Indians abroad remained high on his government’s agenda. He promised a fund to help Indians returning to their country after facing financial distress caused by the global slowdown. “Security of our overseas workers and students is top priority,” he said. “We are conscious of the need to structure an appropriate return and resettlement fund. We are working on a project to provide a social security net for the returning workers.” This apart, Indian Community Welfare Funds have been established in 18 countries to provide food, shelter, repatriation assistance and emergency relief to overseas Indians in distress, he said. Some 1,500 delegates from 50-plus countries are attending the conclave that the country hosts annually to connect with its 25 million diaspora in 130 countries. The prime minister said while people all over were legitimately proud of India’s vibrant democracy, the government had not been able to deliver in full measure on the enormous promise and potential of the country. “I recognise the frustration well wishers feel when they lament why things don’t work faster or why well formulated plans and policies don’t get implemented as well as they should be.” He said there was a price India was paying to carry all sections of its people along in national development, but that was a price worth paying. “It is probably true we are a slow moving elephant but it is equally true that with each step forward we leave behind a deep imprint.” Referring to the giant strides being made by India, the prime minister said the country’s economy will not only register one of the fastest expansions in the world this fiscal but soon return and sustain a high growth path of 9 percent. “During the year gone by, the world faced unprecedented economic and financial crisis. But the Indian economy weathered this crisis quite well,” he said. “We hope to achieve this year a growth rate of around 7 percent, which is one of the fastest in the world. We are equally optimistic we can return to and sustain an annual growth rate of 9-10 percent in a couple of years.” Dual citizens must have tax obligations in India Indians living abroad and holding dual citizenship should accept tax obligations from their mother country just as they seek and often get many privileges and benefits that go to Indians living and working at home, according to eminent economist and professor of Columbia University Jagdish Bhagwati. “...Alongside... improved rights, we in the diaspora need to recognise obligations,” Bhagwati said while delivering the first of the Distinguished Global Indian Oration Series, titled ‘The Role of the Diaspora’, at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2010, the annual conclave of the Indian diaspora, here Friday. “Does it make sense for us, for instance not to accept any tax obligations while we seek, and often get, many of the same privileges that go to Indians working and living at home,” he asked. Citing the US example, Bhagwati said citizenship and its benefits must be associated with tax obligations. “Just as the ‘small’ Tobin Tax (in the US) on capital inflows is associated with the name of Professor James Tobin, there should also therefore be a Bhagwati Tax which is to be collected, as a ‘small’ surcharge on the taxable income of Indian citizens working and living abroad,” the professor advocated. He added that this tax was not to be paid by the host country where the Indian citizen lives “but by us ourselves as our own contribution to the revenues and welfare of the country from where we came and whose citizenship we continue to hold”. At the same time, he advocated the diaspora’s right to vote, saying having full rights of citizenship would bring the diaspora much closer to the kind of loyalty and identification of their interests those in India have.“We must open up ways in which the diaspora’s right to vote is made possible,” Bhagwati said. “There are several ways in which this can be done, e.g., providing a limited number of seats in the Lok Sabha which all NRIs can vote for as a bloc; or by allowing NRIs to register to vote in the states (in India) from which they originate,” he added. Dwelling on remittances from Indians abroad, he said that, apart from money sent by affluent Indians to advance social causes, funds simply remitted by Indians abroad to their families back home also contribute to India’s well-being. “The remittances home, even when sent to families, have turned out to be an important element of the benefits from globalisation for the developing countries, and indeed for India where they were as large as $41 billion in 2007-08, having risen twenty-fold in less than two decades,” the Padma Vibhushan-recipient said. In the course of his speech, he also dwelt on issue like the diaspora as a contributor to Indian reforms, India’s build-up by way of diaspora achievements and interactivity in scientific research. Professor Bhagwati’s speech was the inaugural one of the oration series introduced for the first time in this annual event, organised by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, this time in partnership with the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

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