Overseas Indian affairs ministry rapped for inadequate data

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New Delhi: A parliamentary panel has slammed the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) for lacking authentic data on the exact size of the Indian diaspora, noting this was needed for “appropriate policy framing”.

The panel also called upon the ministry to take more initiatives to attract investments from non-resident Indians (NRIs).

The Standing Committee on External Affairs, which submitted its report on the demands for grants of the MOIA for 2012-13 in parliament Tuesday, criticized the ministry for spending more funds in last quarter and said its expenditure should be evenly distributed as far as possible during each quarter of the year.

The committee took serious note of the fact that till date the country has not been able to estimate the exact number of the Indian diaspora and said it was needed for better functioning and appropriate policy framing of the MOIA.

“The committee has considered it unfortunate that the ministry created for handling all the matters relating to overseas Indians has no authentic data of its own and they have to depend upon the estimates projected in international documents,” the report said.

It rejected “problems and difficulties” expressed by the ministry based on the responses from embassies and missions and hurdles about rules by some countries.

“Work should be undertaken on priority basis appointing a task force or selecting the agencies having expertise in this field,” it said, adding that necessary funds should be obtained from the Finance Ministry.

Noting that NRI investment between Aug 1991 and Dec 2010 was Rs.29,347 crore, the panel said it looked forward to a higher rate of healthy investments by NRIs in India.

“Financial Services Division of the Ministry must work on some targets on yearly basis to attract NRI investment in India using all opportunities including PBDs (pravasi bharatiya divas),” it said.

The committee desired that some more special incentives, tax benefits and exemptions, early start up of business and single window documentation facility should be provided to attract higher NRI investments.

Observing that the approval for building plan of Pravasi Bhartiya Kendra (PBK) was delayed for a very long period, the panel said it expected that the work relating to kendras would be completed within the fixed time frame of 24 months.

The panel said it was not satisfied with the progress made regarding establishment of Pravasi Bhartiya Bhawans (PBB) in states and recommended that the ministry should make concerted efforts in consultation with the state governments.

It expressed concern over “lack of seriousness” shown by the ministry by not making any allocation for construction or purchase of buildings of existing PoE (Protector of Emigrants) offices. It asked the ministry to try all options to fill the vacancies in PoEs in the shortest possible time.

The committee recommended that the ministry should appropriately increase the number of undergraduate scholarships under the ‘Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children (SPDC)’ as well as the allocation.

Though the panel welcomed the recently launched pension and life insurance fund scheme for overseas Indian migrant workers in the ECR (emigration check required) countries, it expressed apprehension that unskilled or semi-skilled workers may refrain from contributing to this scheme without being convinced with the modalities and procedures of accessing the maturity amount.

It recommended that all the arrangements should be made for wide publicity and said possibilities should be explored to make the contribution mandatory so that the objectives of the scheme were achieved in a better way and “every worker’s life becomes happy and secure on return to India”.

Referring to its expectations expressed earlier desiring better coordination between the MOIA and the MEA, the panel said it was more important particularly in emergencies like global natural calamities or political crisis where Indian nationals were stranded and immediate relief is required.

It said MEA comes into action through missions and takes care of such immediate and emergent situations in the country where the crisis arises and almost nothing is left to be done by the MOIA after Indian citizens are brought to India.

“The Ministry of Overseas Affairs being the nodal Ministry in the matters relating to NRIs and PIOs must work in close association with MEA while dealing with such situations expecting future needs of evacuation,” the panel said.