Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh inaugurated the 11th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here today. In his inaugural address, he said that despite domestic constraints and challenges, India is confident that the strong economic fundamentals, backed by sound policies, will enable us to return to a higher growth path. This is an imperative for the country, because, India needs rapid growth and a healthy economy to meet the aspirations of an increasingly young India and make economic development more inclusive and more sustainable. The Governemnt has taken a number of steps to boost domestic and foreign investment, accelerate project implementation and reform capital markets and the tax system. He added that among the most positive stories out of India in recent years are the acceleration in the rate of poverty reduction, stronger growth in the poorest states and improved productivity and increased real wages in our agriculture sector. This is significant, given that 65% of our population still relies on agriculture. He further said that the Government took a small first step to deliver benefits through direct transfer to beneficiaries, using the digital Aadhaar platform, which is an example of efforts to make growth more inclusive and government programmes more efficient and less vulnerable to leakages of various sorts.
The Prime Minister said that the relationship between Pravasis and Bharat has taken many forms. One of its most glorious manifestations has been their contribution to India’s independence movement. Nearly a hundred years ago, almost to this day, Mahatma Gandhi returned to lead a nation’s march to freedom. This year, the country is celebrating the centenary of the Gadar Movement, which was a luminous spark of support in distant California for the struggle for independence being waged at home in our country. Apart from commemorating it by the issue of a special postage stamp, India will also upgrade the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco into a functional museum and library with a sculpture to honour the Gadar Babas, the heroes of this great national movement. Dr. Manmohan Singh said that overseas Indians have served as a bridge of friendship and cooperation between India and their adopted homes abroad. The Government will do all that is possible to deepen their connection with India and advance their interests. While honouring their achievements, the Government will also seek to facilitate their travel, business and education and make it easier for them to be a part of life in India, enjoy due rights and participate in India’s economic development. The Government has launched an insurance scheme for workers, established welfare funds in our embassies for distressed Indians, and created mechanisms to help vulnerable women abroad. The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements and Social Security Agreements with a number of countries play an important role for protection and promotion of the rights and interests of Indian businesses, professionals and workers. The theme for this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is “Engaging Diaspora – the Indian Growth Story”. This is only appropriate since there have been concerns recently about the direction and content of India’s growth story and about larger social and governance issues, he added. In his speech, Shri. Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, announced that the merger of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin Card (PIO) cards may become a reality very soon. He said that the PBD is succeeding in its aim of becoming a forum for global Indians to engage with India, and to generate ideas on the mutually beneficial India-Diaspora engagement. Outlining the steps taken by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, he said that the Ministry has signed four new Social Security Agreements (SSA) with Finland, Canada, Japan and Sweden. Two more SSAs with Austria and Portugal would be signed in the next couple of months. Shri Ravi further said that the Ministry has also set up the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), which is expanded to all the Indian Missions abroad. The scope of ICWF has been widened to include; Providing payment of penalties to release Indian nationals who are in prisons for no fault of theirs; Providing support to local Overseas Indian Associations to establish Overseas Indian Community Centres ; and Providing support to start and run overseas Indian community based student welfare centres. The Ministry also operates a 24 hour, the toll free Helpline called the Overseas Workers Resource Centre (OWRC) in eight Indian languages, to assist intending migrants to get any information relating to visas, recruiting agents, foreign employment, work conditions etc., and also to register their grievances. It has launched the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana on a pilot basis. This scheme will provide to Indian workers a life insurance, a pension, and a lumpsum for rehabilitation, once they return to India. Chief Minister of Kerla, Shri.Oommen Chandy while addressing the session told that his Government is willing to provide return tickets to all those Keralites when they are released. He added that in order to improve the infrastructure and economic standards further the State has taken several investment friendly steps in the recent past. In the recent The Emerging Kerala Meet, investment proposal and Expression of Interest for more than 40,000 crores were received. President of Mauritius, His Excellency Rajkeshwur Purryag, who was the Chief Guest, said that India and Mauritius have traditional bilateral ties. There is a huge potential for bilateral trade and investment. He extended support for India’s claim for the permanent seat in UN Security Council. On the occasion, the Prime Minister released the postage stamp on Ghadar Movement. He also released the OIFC handbook ‘India Support” and MOIA handbook on emigrants.