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15 Jan, 2007

India Reaches Out Further To Make Diaspora Feel At Home

NEW DELHI: Holders of “Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards are to be charged the same domestic airfares as resident Indians and also charged the same entry fees for National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr Vayalar Ravi announced this last week as part of continuing efforts by the Indian government to tap the financial and educational assets of the 25 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in contributing to nation-building.

Mr Ravi told the annual caucus of the Indian diaspora, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), that the OCI Scheme introduced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year had met with overwhelming response and so far 90,000 such cards had been issued, with thousands more overseas Indians expected to sign up this year.

NRI’s who have assumed the citizenship of their country of residence are normally categorised as “foreign nationals” and have to pay higher airfares and charged often five times the “local rate” for entrance to National Parks and Wild Life Sanctuaries.

That will soon be changed, though the minister did not specify precisely when.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the PBD the annual “ celebration of the home-coming of the global Indian.”

He said, “We in India wish to see you engaged in India’s great adventure of building an India free from the fear of war, want and exploitation. India’s growth process creates enormous opportunities for promoting cross border flows of trade, capital and technology. I would like overseas Indian communities to take full advantage of these exciting opportunities.”

All through the PBD, minister after minister held out travel & tourism as a major beneficiary of NRI investment.

Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said that for the first time Indian industries are globalizing their operations, acquiring abroad, leaving their footprints in different countries. Infrastructure in particular needs $320 billion of investments, of which $20-25 billion needs to come from overseas.

Union Minister of Tourism & Culture, Ms Ambika Soni said that tourism is now considered one of the key economic drivers. She pointed out that tourism contributes to 5.9% of the national GDP and provides direct and indirect employment to 41.8 million people.

She said the government has facilitated long-term visas for up to 5 years with multiple entry options. Connectivity to key tourism centres around the country have improved significantly and new products such as rural tourism, adventure tourism, medical tourism, wellness tourism, cruise tourism, etc., are being developed and promoted.

Mr. K S Vatya, Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, of Maharashtra state, which boasts the commercial powerhouse city of Mumbai as its capital, said tourism one of three priority sectors identified for investment promotion. He announced that around 70 special economic zones would be set up soon in the State.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said his state is introducing a ‘single table’ concept rather than a single window for investors in tourism, infrastructure and Special Economic Zones. He claimed that costs of power, manpower, etc are among the lowest in India.

Rajasthan’s Minister for Tourism, Sports & Youth Welfare, Ms Yashodhara Raje Scindia, said that a ten-year tax holiday would be given to overseas Indian investing in preservation of heritage buildings, and tax incentives would be available for hotel construction.

Officials of the Haryana government showcased the industrial and infrastructure achievements of the state. Ten per cent of the area of industrial townships and sectoral parks are set aside for NRI investment and investments with more than 33% FDI component.

Karnataka’s Minister of Large and Medium Industries, Karnataka state, stressed health tourism, tourism, food and agriculture, and also invited overseas Indians to participate in the development of Tier 2 cities.

Mr Elamaram Karim, Minister of Industries, Kerala, said that annual remittances from overseas Keralites amount to Rs 35 billion. He announced the establishment of Infrastructure Kerala Ltd, a corporation on a public private partnership model with 26% investment by the government of Kerala and the rest from non-resident Indians.

A Medicity for medical tourism, and a food processing park in Wayanad are also proposed. A special project for setting up a global school with international curriculum was offered for management and investment by overseas Indians.

Guest of Honour Dato Seri S Samy Vellu, Cabinet Minister of Works, Malaysia and President, Malaysian Indian Congress, said in his address that Malaysia has been participating in the PBD since 2003.

Stressing that human resources must be converted into human capital, he said Malaysia can play a role in India’s infrastructure requirements thanks to its own experience in completing 255 projects overseas with 44 more in the pipeline, aggregating $10 billion.

A delegation of NRI’s from Mauritius showed keen interest in the development of Bihar state, observing that their recent travels in the state had indeed revealed change. The country would like to adopt 50 villages in India, 30 of them in Bihar.

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