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Friday, November 13, 1998
PM announces PIO card for
NEW DELHI, Nov 12 Indians living abroad with alien passports are to be issued a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card that would confer upon them a range of special benefits, including a visa-free regime and several other facilities in the economic, financial and educational fields, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, announced here today.
The government is also considering the long-standing demand of the non resident Indians (NRIs) to provide for "dual nationality" for people of Indian origin settled abroad. In this regard it has been decided to appoint a committee that would hold wide consultations, elicit public opinion, examine the pros and cons of different options and formulate recommendations on the question of dual nationality or any suitable variant. The committee would give its report within three months, Mr Vajpayee said.
Inaugurating a two-day conference on "The Global Indian Entrepreneurs", organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Indian Investment Centre here, Mr Vajpayee said the details of the PIO card scheme had been worked out and it would be announced very shortly. The PIO card would be extended to persons of Indian origin settled in countries to be specified by the government, he said.
Very broadly, a PIO card holder will enjoy parity with NRI in respect of facilities presently available for the acquisition and transfer of immovable properties in India, admission of children to educational institutions in India and preference in various housing schemes of central and state government agencies.
The decision to issue PIO card is in pursuance of the announcement made by the Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha in his budget speech on June 1, this year.
Paying tributes to the continued support and commitment of the people of Indian origin to their motherland, the Prime Minister referred to the success of the State Bank of Indias Resurgent India Bonds which fetched $ 4.2 billion in August. "It demonstrates your appreciation of the economic outlook of the future," Mr Vajpayee said.
He said the subscriptions to the bond were in addition to the savings of more than $ 20 billion, which the NRIs continue to maintain in a variety of instruments in India.
The Prime Minister pointed out that a sum of about $ 12 billion had come in each of the last two fiscal years as direct remittance from Indians abroad.
Relating to the problems faced by the NRIs in India, the Prime Minister said: "We cannot overnight, create an enabling environment that matches what is prevailing in some of the developed countries." There were competing claims on the countrys limited resources and there was a need to be cautious about emulating models of development that were alien to Indias cultural milieu or not in line with its level of development. "Yet, there is no denying there is a need for change," Mr Vajpayee admitted.
Saying that there was a need to bring about Indias national renewal, he said the NRIs could provide some valuable suggestions and advice in this regard. It had been decided to set up a suitable mechanisma forum in the government for effective on-going consultation with the NRIs. The Indian Investment Centre is also proposed to be strengthened and restructured to enable it to address the investment concerns of the NRIs in a more effective and focussed manner.
The Prime Minister referred to the complaint of some NRIs that when they receives dividend on non-repatriable investments they were being asked to furnish an undertaking that they would pay tax if required to along with a certificate from a chartered accountant. Mr Vajpayee admitted that this was an aberration as dividend in the hands of individual investors was now not taxable in India. He asked the NRIs to give more information to the Finance Minister so that he could redress the problem.
Giving a detailed account of various steps taken by his government to boost the Indian economy, the Prime Minister said "economic reforms are here to stay and, if any thing; the process is being accelerated".
Referring to criticism that he was a "dreamer" and dreams seldom materialise into reality, Mr Vajpayee said: "I beg to differ". He said a case in point was the governments plans to start within this year and from 20 different places across the country a six-lane east-west and north-south corridor covering 7000 km and estimated to cost Rs 28,000 crore. The six-lane corridor project, he said, had attracted a lot of comment and some cynicism.
"Yes it is a dream; a 7000 km, 6-lane corridor linking Silchar in the North East to Saurashtra in the West and Kashmir to Kanyakumari is a magnificent dream. A dream for India. If you dont dream, how will your dreams come true?" the Prime Minister said. He said questions had been raised about the financing involving 28,000 crore. "For a nation that saves more than three lakh crore rupees per year, a country that imports nearly 28,000 crore worth gold, largely for savings, has ample resources for several projects of this scale and dimension", he said.
Mr Vajpayee pointed out that the north-south-east-west corridor when completed would save Rs 15,000 crore a year just by way of petroleum products saved and a like amount in wear and tear of the vehicles and life and limbs of drivers, not taking into account the time saved and efficiency achieved in the transportation of goods.
The government planned to create financial instruments to channelise private savings and investments in the grand development project, he added.
The Prime Minister reminded the audience, comprising overseas Indians from 25 countries in the world, that Bhakra Dam in Punjab was viewed as an impossible dream in the early fifties and more recently the tunnel under the English Channel linking Britain and France.
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