The 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) was celebrated on January 7th to 9th at Jaipur last month. PBD has been organized since 2003 to appreciate the work done by overseas Indian community for the development of India.

Program started with two pre-conference sessions on Jan. 7th, on Solar Technology and Diaspora Contribution to Health Sector. The ministry of health made a strong pitch to Indians overseas during the PBD and urged them to help in the development of healthcare facilities in the country, especially in providing training, knowhow and advanced technologies. Many Indians in the Gulf and western countries have shown interest in setting up hospitals and medical colleges in India. Training of medical professionals is another area where they can help the Indian government.

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH INAUGURATES THE CELEBRATION

PBD was inaugurated on Jan. 8th by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who announced that the government has issued notifications for registration of overseas voters under the Representation of People Act and non-resident Indians can now vote in the Indian elections. Postal ballot or online voting, however, has not been granted and the NRIs who want to vote will have to be present in their home constituencies to cast their ballot in person during the elections.

The government has also initiated an effort to spruce up its existing People of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizen of India schemes. The two schemes will now be merged, thus rectifying some problems and overlaps between the two. Foreign spouses of overseas Indian cardholders will now become eligible for the overseas citizen of India cards – which have proved very popular among people of Indian origin who have acquired citizenship of other countries.

Lately there has been a surge in workers going to work in the Gulf and other areas from the north Indian states including Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. In an effort to reach out to these workers, an office of the Protector of Emigrants has been set up in Jaipur. Earlier, they would have to travel to Delhi for their immigration formalities. The city will also have a migrant resource centre to provide support to overseas Indians and emigrating workers.

Speaking at the inaugural session, MOIA Minister Vayalar Ravi said that the government has unveiled a new e-migrate scheme to provide end-to-end online solutions for the emigration system. This will link semi-skilled and unskilled workers who go for jobs overseas, offices of the protector of emigrants, recruiting agencies, immigration officials, employers and Indian missions abroad.

Minister Ravi further said that in the past few years, the Indian government had entered into social security agreements with various European nations which benefit the Indian professionals who work there. These agreements are now being expanded into labor mobility partnership agreements which are being expanded to cover students, academics and professionals, besides skilled workers. Such pacts are being negotiated with the Netherlands, France, Australia and EU.

The chief guest at the PBD was Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar who was accompanied by a large delegation. PM Bissessar termed India as its grandmother to all the PIOs living in the Caribbean countries.

One of the highlights of the Pravasi Bharatiya divas this year was the launch of a new pension and life insurance fund for overseas Indian workers by the government. The scheme will encourage, enable and assist overseas workers to voluntarily save for their return and resettlement in their old age. It will also provide a low cost insurance cover against natural death.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs has announced that it will undertake an ethnographic study of the vast and diverse body of people of Indian origin across the world, through its think tank the Indian Council of Overseas Employment. Such a database has never been undertaken before and the mapping will benefit both the Indian government and the communities of people of Indian origin around the world.

In a clear message that the government is serious about reaping the demographic dividend and in an effort to position India as a global supplier of skilled and trained workforce in the coming decades, the ministry of overseas Indian affairs has drafted a scheme for skills development. It is aimed to train over 10 million youth over the next two five-year plans and enable workers to move up the value chain and access better jobs overseas.

PRESIDENT PRATIBHA PATIL DELIVERS VALIDICTORY ADDRESS AND CONFERS SAMAN

On Jan. 9th at the Valedictory session, President Pratibha Patil conferred the “Pravasi Bharatiya Samman” awards to 14 eminent overseas Indians, including Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, and a Canada-based institution, for their outstanding contributions in enhancing India’s image globally.

“Indian overseas community is not only large, but is becoming increasingly influential in the economic, professional and political fields in the country in which they are now living. We are proud of their accomplishments,” Patil said while addressing the valedictory function of the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here.

Pravasi Bharatiya Samman is the highest award conferred by the Indian government on Non-resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and institutions run by them for their contribution in serving the Indian Diaspora and enhancing India’s image in different parts of the world.

Bissessar, a person of Indian origin who became the first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, is the most prominent among this year’s awardees.

Congratulating Bissessar for her outstanding achievement, the president said Indian community world-wide would applaud her achievements.

“I would like to congratulate all the winners… It is an extremely distinguished list and we are honored by the presences of the awardees at this function,” Patil said after conferring the award.

The other Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awardees include: P.V Radhakrishna Pillai from Bahrain, Sachchidanand Sahai from Cambodia, Deepak Naraindas Shivdasani from Cote D’Ivoire, Victor Shahed Smetacek from Germany, Prakash Lohia, chairman of Indorama Corporation, Jose Parayanken from Mozambique, Kiran Navinchandra Asher from Oman, Hassan Abdulkarim Chougule from Qatar, S.R. Nathan from Singapore, Khorshed Noshir Ginwala Rustomjee from South Africa, Rajesh Kumar Saraiya from Ukraine, Surendra Kumar Kaushik from US and Kalpalatha Kummamuri Guntupalli from US.

Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and Industry was also honored for its contribution in bettering business and economic relations between the two countries.

Photo above: Pravasi bharatiya Samman Awardees with at teh inaugural session of PBD 2012. Seated from l. to r., Rajasthan Chief Minsiter Ashok Gehlot, T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, Prime Minsiter Manmiohan Singh, Governor Shivraj Patil and Minister Vayalar Ravi

So far, 133 NRI and PIOs and three institutions run by NRIs or persons of Indian origin have been conferred the award.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said the 10th edition of the annual Diaspora meet saw the highest participation.

Over 2,000 delegates from 59 countries participated at the three-day event. The closing day of the event marked the 97th anniversary of homecoming of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a celebration of Indians living abroad. It is an occasion to welcome them to the land of their ancestors, to the country of their origin to interact with them and to reacquaint ourselves with each other,” the president said.

MEETING WITH DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS

MOIA organized this session to get feedback from the Diaspora organizations. Represetnatives from GOPIO, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), National Federation of Idnian American Associaiton (NFIA), Rajasthan Associaiton of North America (RANA). GOPIO Founder President Dr. Thomas Abraham was a speaker who brought the following points to the attention of MOIA.

1. Initiate new programs for continued cultural linakges with PIO countries such as openign India Cultural Centers in those countries which do not have.

2. Reduce the the current passport surrender fee from $175 to a nominal servicecharge.

3. While changing from OCI to OIC, make it easy for people without any additional fee for the changeover.

4. Nothing much has happened in the Global Indian Network of Knowledge (Global INK). Invole the Indian community organizations to make it happen.

5. Establish an Advisory Committee to MOIA from the Diaspora organizations.

6. Reconsitute Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee with a few members from the Diaspora organizations.

7. To bring and implement new technologies to India, initiate a global team of experts as advisors in some of the key ministries such as Science and Technology, Agriculture, Power Generation, Alternative Energy Generation, Heath, Educatiuon and Human Services.

8. At the featured pre-PBD conferences, have business to business (B to B) as part of the seminars. For this, invite all those in the Diaspora who have business in that field and ask them to have tabletop exhibit of their company at nominal charge of a registration fee.

9. PBD programs should be finalized with feedback from the Diaspora organizations.

GOPIO OFFICIALS DISCUSS DIASPORA ISSUES WITH MINISTER VAYALAR RAVI IN NEW YORK

A GOPIO delegation consisting of GOPIO International officers, GOPIO life members, GOPIO council and chapter officials met on January 25, 2012 with Minister of Overseas Affairs (MOIA) Vayalar Ravi in New York for an interactive session organized and conducted by Ashook Ramsaran, President of GOPIO International. The session was very informative with in-depth discussion of several topics covering many of the current, pertinent issues of concern among the GOPIO membership representing the NRI and PIO community of the global Indian Diaspora.

Topics of discussion included: Strengthening links with the Diaspora with cultural and academic exchanges; distance learning at Indian universities; OCI/PIO Cards and consideration of alternate documentation; scams used in recruiting Indian students; efforts on transfer of skills and technology from developed countries to India; the “Know India Program”; making PBD a smoother process; procedures and implementation of voting rights of NRIs; fraudulent marriages and NRIs brides; focusing on youth of the Diaspora; proposed books on the Indian Diaspora; health awareness programs to people of Indian origin globally.

Minister Ravi was very interested and receptive to the diverse set of questions, issues and suggestions offered by the enthusiastic set of delegates. He was very accommodating and engaging in the discussions, responding in detail to queries, comments and suggestions. The session concluded Min Ravi emphasizing that the recommendations and suggestions to MOIA are most welcome. He concluded by saying that, “Remember, you are citizens of another country – be loyal to that country”. He also reiterated that the NRI/PIO community is top on his mind while the security of India is most critical and would not be compromised.

Photo (l-r): Ashook Ramsaran, Hiram Persuade, Netram Rambudhan, Abraham Phillips, Dr Najma Sultana, Lal Motwani, Naidu Veer pen, Sudha Chary, Struan Sookdeo, Hon Min Vayalar Ravi, Mridul PATHAK, J. Nami Kaur, Dr Jagat Motwani, Sangeeta Ahuja, Anita Bhat, Harbachan Singh, Bhang Waurika, Patsy Leopold, Dr. Thomas Abraham

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