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'PBD has lost its charm in attracting NRIs and PIOs'

By Thomas Abraham
January 06, 2014 20:59 IST
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India needs to come up with new ideas to make the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas more appealing to overseas Indians. Their talents should be used for the country’s development, says Thomas Abraham, founder of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin

For the last 12 years, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has become an annual pilgrimage for many non-resident Indians and Person’s of Indian Origin.

I have had opportunity to attend all eleven PBDs starting from 2003. The first one was attended by almost 4,000 delegates. Since then, the delegates’ attendance has been shrinking, although in the last five years, it has remained between 1,500 and 2000.

PBD has lost its charm in attracting important players among NRIs/PIOs. We need to have some new ideas to make it appealing to overseas Indians.

The last decade has seen NRIs/PIOs becoming enormously rich, thanks to the information technology revolution. The Indian Diaspora has become a most sought after group to be attracted for investments, whether it is in developing countries like Trinidad and Mauritius or countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia who want new investments.

The biggest contribution from the global Indian Diaspora has been to build a positive image of India in other countries. The Diaspora has contributed to increased trade, investments and business opportunities between India and the countries they live in.

Many of these are experts in different fields and their talents should be used for India’s development by motivating them to attend the event and fully utilise their visit to benefit India.

People of Indian origin could assume a new role in providing help in case of crisis to their communities around the world. India too can do a lot so that its overseas children can give back to their motherland.

As a first step toward bringing our communities together, the Indian-American community, under the leadership of the National Federation of Indian American Associations, took the initiative to organise the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in New York in 1989.

The Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin was formed at this convention to help in networking our communities and take up common issues to the larger community.

Although, our initial thrust was in human rights violations of Diaspora Indians worldwide, our objectives have now changed to creating economic opportunities by pooling our professional and financial resources to achieve economic progress not only for our Diaspora communities, but also for India.

In the last three decades, the perception of India has considerably changed from a poor country trying to survive itself to a country with the latest technology achievements. It is in the interest of NRIs/PIOs to achieve a developed and strong India. And we are committed to do our parts in India’s development.

With a large number of NRIs taking active interest in India’s development, several new non-governmental organisations have been launched worldwide to promote education, health care water management, rural development and self-help programs.

NRIs and PIOs are also increasingly supporting several non-governmental organisations in India in a range of developmental, educational and social programs. PBD has been providing platforms to discuss how NRIs/PIOs could actively participate with government agencies and NGOs in India. Interaction with the right authorities in India could motivate more NRIs/PIOs to help in developing a better India.

With the emerging economic influence of the overseas Indian community, the government of India took several steps to bring the Diaspora closer to the motherland.

GOPIO and other Diaspora organisations have been campaigning on several issues for the last two decades.

We have over 10 million Indian passport holders living outside India. India has also accorded voting rights for Indians living outside the country.

However, very few NRI citizens can avail this opportunity since they have to be present in their hometown when the voters lists are updated.

There is no opportunity to register by mail. Also, voters have to be present in person to vote at the assigned polling booth. The only solution to this is to accord mail voting or online electronic voting.

A truly democratic way to provide representation to Indian citizens living outside India in the Indian Parliament is to create two or three Lok Sabha seats for NRIs and appoint a couple of NRIs to the Rajya Sabha.

Many NRIs/PIOs keep their emotional ties alive to their motherland by maintaining their hereditary property. They are committed to contributing financially and otherwise to the growth and progress of India.

They have substantially invested or are in the process of investing in residential and commercial real estate.

But there have been a growing number of scams related to NRIs/PIOs hereditary, residential and commercial properties.

Most overseas Indians who have hereditary property are at a great disadvantage to contest property issues in Indian courts, which take an unusually long time. NRIs/PIOs need to be present on many occasions before the courts.

PBD 2009 took up this issue, but we are yet see corrective measures from the central government agencies and state governments.

The Diaspora would like to approach fast track courts for the speedy settlement of their property issues.

The Indian ministries of commerce, science and technology, power, alternative energy, agriculture, rural development and tourism should have separate NRI/PIO advisory committees which should meet on a regular basis to seek ways to involve overseas Indians in developmental activities related to the individual ministries.

To motivate private companies and young entrepreneurs, the central and state government agencies as well as semi-government agencies should establish mechanism to launch public and private partnerships to promote innovations and technology development and commercialisation. Here the Diaspora businessmen as well as entrepreneurs could a large play role.

There should be centres of excellence initiated by the central government as well as the state governments around various Indian Institutes of Technology and other leading engineering and science institutions.

Diaspora scientists and technologists could be part of such centres. There are a few such centers in India now and PBD is the right opportunity to invite such eminent technologists and entrepreneurs to visit and interact with their counterparts.

With the Indian government spending enormous funds for industrial research and development, we need to recover that investment by commercializing the research and development findings to useful technologies.

NRIs/PIOs can help to commercialise such technologies from CSIR and other laboratories.

During earlier PBDs a few seminars were organised on nanotechnology, solar energy products and pure sciences. However, the net outcome has been poor since not enough groundwork was done to attract the right players among NRIs/PIOs and from India. It was like a botched up effort to organise such seminars.

NRI/PIOs as global citizens have done a great job in building a good image for their motherland in their respective countries. They have worked behind the scene to create interest among companies to take interest in India.

Similar to what China has accomplished to become a powerful country in the world with the help of its diaspora, Indian Diaspora is also contributing to make India reach new heights of success.

Dr Thomas Abraham founded the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin and now serves as its executive trustee. He is also a board member of the South Asian Council for Social Services. Dr Abraham was received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award in 2008.

Image: People queue up to register for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. This year's PBD will be held from January 7 to 9 at the Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi.

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