Session Report

Plenary Session II: Consular services to Overseas Indians: Ensuring effective & efficient delivery

Chair:

  • Gen. (Dr) V K Singh (Retd), Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India

Session Coordinator:

  • Dr Deepak Mittal, Joint Secretary (CPV), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India

Panelists:

  • Mr Nareshkumar Narayanbhai Chavda, Director, National Alliance of Indo-Canadian Organization, Canada
  • Mr Madan Murlidhar Dulloo, Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade & Cooperation, Mauritius
  • Mr Krishnamurthy Kumar, Procurement Contracts & Support Manager, Dubai World, UAE
  • Mr Ashok Mago, Founder Chairman, US-India Chamber of Commerce, USA
  • Mr Rajmal Parakh, Chairman and MD, Biogenomics Research Ltd, Oman
  • Mr Adapa Vara Prasad, President & CEO, Stratogix, USA
  • Dr Rajesh Rai, Associate Professor & Deputy Head of South Asian Studies Programme, National University Singapore
  • Mr Tara Chand Sharma, IT Consultant, Australia
  • Mr Selvarajoo Sundram, Chairman, GOPIO Malaysia
  • Mr Amit Tiwari, Senior Vice President -Operational Risk Management, Citi Bank, UK

The Context

The session was designed to focus upon the (i) comprehensive consular grievance management system called MADAD, initiated in 2015 by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, to effectively track and redress grievances, (ii) e-Migrate platform -- to provide efficiency and transparency to the process of recruitment of ECR category Indian workers for overseas employment, (iii) issuance of visas and reissue of passports by Indian embassies and consulates, enhancing access to Indian Embassies and consulates and making them more responsive to public expectations, (iv) process of ensuring an effective system for registration of Indian nationals, ease of issuance of OCI Cards, conversion of PIO Cards to OCI Cards, simplification of the nationality renunciation process.

Recommendations & Action Taken

The PBD 2016 Conference titled “Consular Services to Overseas Indians: Ensuring Effective & Efficient Delivery” held in New Delhi on March 29, 2016. Ms Sushma Swaraj, Minister for External Affairs, Government of India, while chairing the session, stated that the Government attaches great importance to sympathetic and efficient delivery of consular services. An important step in this direction was the introduction the comprehensive Consular Grievance Management System named MADAD to effectively track and redress grievances. The e-Migrate platform was another key initiative taken, to provide an efficient and transparent recruitment process for the ECR category.

In the plenary, Dr Deepak Mittal, Joint Secretary (CPV), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India presented the key recommendations made at the 2016 PBD Conference and actions taken by the Government with respect to the recommendation, as cited below:

  • Extension of deadline for conversion of PIO card to OCI card
    • The deadline has been extended to June 30 2017.
  • Procedural simplification for conversion to OCI card
    • The process of conversion has been fairly simplified. A FAQ section has also been put up on the MEA website.
  • Extension of OCI card to beyond 4th generation
    • It has been decided to use Girmitiya records of Mauritius to extend OCI cards facility in that country.
  • All Missions/Posts should have a database of the Indian community in the particular country. This would help generate reliable data that could be useful in times of emergency
    • The Ministry has instructed all Missions/Posts to proactively register Indian nationals abroad; Students travelling abroad are now advised to register on Madad.
  • The process of renunciation to be made simple and uniform; fees and penalties to be brought down to a minimum level; one-time amnesty to be given based on a deadline
    • The procedures have been reviewed and the guidelines have been posted on the MEA website.
  • Formulate a Consular Services Charter, rationalise visa categories, extend emergency visa facilities, create better facilities in the consular wings of Indian Missions/Posts, employ additional local staff at the Missions/Posts
    • A Consular Services Charter has already been formulated by the Government and the same is available on the website; The Consular officials of Indian Missions/Posts work 24x7 and grant visas and other services in case of emergencies; Sustained efforts are being made to provide better facilities and to engage additional local staff wherever required.
  • Organise consular camps and open houses on a regular basis; Tighten penal clauses in contracts with outsourced service providers; Put in place a 24x7 helpline; designate welfare officers in Indian Missions/Posts; address the problems of heavy visa demand at the Indian Missions/Posts
    • Open houses and consular camps are being organised by the Indian Missions/Posts; a revised RFP has been formulated bringing more accountability upon the service provider; welfare officers have been designated at the Indian Missions/Posts.
  • Extend voting facility to NRIs and provide Aadhaar and PAN cards directly or through outsourced arrangements.
  • Streamline the emigration process and tighten the regulation of recruiting agents in coordination with concerned State Government authorities to check unscrupulous activities in this regard.
  • Explore creative ways to use the ICWF funds available with the Indian Missions/Posts to address the needs of overseas Indians
    • Extant ICWF guidelines are being revised; an online prisoners module has been created as part of MADAD.
  • Simplify and modernise the attestation process
    • Launched e-Sanad, an online attestation platform; discussions are being held for its integration with the National Academic Depository; Attestation/apostille work has been decentralised to RPOs (Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Goa, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram); plans are afoot to extend attestation services to NRIs using the e-Sanad platform.
  • List of countries to which Indian Missions/Posts are concurrently accredited to be reviewed and rationalised with the aim of making consular services conveniently accessible to PIOs. The possibility of appointing more Honorary Consuls to be looked into.
    • Government has undertaken comprehensive examination of the concurrent accreditation of Indian missions abroad and appointment of Honorary Consuls in consultation with various stakeholders, taking into account India’s bilateral relations, economic ties, functional requirements and the focus on facilitating easy access of consular services to PIOs. The final proposal is under submission for consideration and approval of the competent authority.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs should proactively publicise all new initiatives and success stories related to consular services for greater awareness about the same among members of the Indian community.
    • XP Division of the Ministry of External Affairs has been spearheading these efforts, using tools of digital diplomacy.
  • India should pursue mutual recognition of qualifications with as many countries as possible; Conduct a census survey to obtain the latest country-wise statistics of Indian Diaspora.
    • A committee was constituted to look into the problems of equivalence of qualifications at various stages of the education system. MoUs/agreements regarding equivalence of qualifications at various stages of education system have been initiated with countries like France, EU, and Germany. Country-wise data of NRIs and PIOs was re-compiled by Government in April 2016. This data has been posted on Ministry’s website for ready access.

Plenary Session & Q&A

The session facilitated exchange of ideas on the quality and depth of consular services that are made available to overseas Indians. Addressing the various queries raised by the delegates, Gen. (Dr) V K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India, said that facilitation issues linked with corrections of details like date of birth in passports held by Indians overseas will be looked into. He said the Ministry shall examine the issues faced by PIOs from Sri Lanka who had stayed in India as refugees. There was a suggestion for a special cell to be set up to address the matter.

On the issues faced by housemaids in Saudi Arabia, the minister said the Government has decided that no lady below the age of 30 shall go out of the country for such jobs. Further their recruitment will be handled only by Government agencies. Those found violating the norms will be charged with human trafficking.

He pointed out that outsourcing of consular services will bring about more efficiency in the services, without any increase in costs. He also informed the audience that the Government has worked closely with the Saudi Arabia government to ensure that Indian workers who have lost their employment there were given passage costs for their return to India. And, where the Saudi Arabia government did not meet such costs, Government of India had provided support to meet the passage costs.

Mr Manish Gupta, Joint Secretary (OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, said that Indian embassies are extending initial legal assistance to overseas Indians.

The panellists sought the following improvements and changes in the consular services:

  • Address the inheritance issues faced by OCI card holders.
  • Issue of pre-citizenship surrender certificate by Indian embassies.
  • Help Indians working overseas as labourers in enhancing their education and skills and connect directly with the employers.
  • Disseminate information to a wider audience about all the consular initiatives being taken by the Indian embassies and high commissions.
  • Bring in ombudsmen to work closely with the high commissions and embassies for easier facilitation of conversion of PIO cards to OCI cards.
  • Facilitation for Girmitiya countries to open consulates in Indian cities like Bengaluru, Lucknow, Patna, Hyderabad, and Vadodara.
  • Establish a strong legal cell for Indian expats in the Gulf region.

Participants

  1. Gen. (Dr) V K Singh (Retd), Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India (Chair)
  2. Mr Dnyaneshwar M Mulay, Secretary (CPV&OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (Session Coordinator)          
  3. Dr Deepak Mittal, Joint Secretary (CPV), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
  4. Mr Manish Gupta, Joint Secretary (OIA 1), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
  5. Mr Nareshkumar Narayanbhai Chavda, Director, National Alliance of Indo-Canadian Organization, Canada
  6. Mr Madan Murlidhar Dulloo, Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade & Cooperation, Mauritius
  7. Mr Krishnamurthy Kumar, Procurement Contracts & Support Manager, Dubai World, UAE
  8. Mr Ashok Mago, Founder Chairman, US-India Chamber of Commerce, USA
  9. Mr Rajmal Parakh, Chairman and MD, Biogenomics Research Ltd, Oman
  10. Mr Adapa Vara Prasad, President & CEO, Stratogix, USA
  11. Dr Rajesh Rai, Associate Professor & Deputy Head of South Asian Studies Programme, National University Singapore
  12. Mr Tara Chand Sharma, IT Consultant, Australia
  13. Mr Selvarajoo Sundram, Chairman, GOPIO Malaysia
  14. Mr Amit Tiwari, Senior Vice President -Operational Risk Management, Citi Bank, UK

Key Recommendations of the Plenary Session

In the interactive session with PBD delegates following suggestions and recommendations were made:

  • Extend voting facility to NRIs and provide Aadhaar and PAN cards directly or through outsourced arrangements.
  • Streamline the emigration process and tighten the regulation of recruiting agents in coordination with concerned State Government authorities to check unscrupulous activities in this regard.
  • Address the inheritance issues faced by OCI card holders.
  • Embassies may issue pre-citizenship surrender certificates.
  • Help Indians working overseas as labourers in enhancing their education and skills and assist them to connect directly with the employers.
  • Disseminate information to a wider audience on all consular services extended by the Indian embassies and high commissions.
  • Facilitate for Girmitiya countries to open consulates in Indian cities like Bengaluru, Lucknow, Patna, Hyderabad, and Vadodara.
  • Many migrant workers are seen to get into trouble by agreeing innocently to carry narcotic substances given by recruitment agents, etc., or by carrying large quantities of OTC medicines/other medicines without prescription. To check this, build awareness on these issues among prospective migrant workers and their families.
  • All concerned State Governments to have NRI Department on the lines of Kerala’s NORKA.
  • It is imperative to get the Indian e-emigrant system and e-emigrant systems of other countries aligned. The systems need to talk to each other.
  • Establish a strong legal cell for Indian expats in the Gulf region.
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