Interview : K Mohandas

"The Diaspora will be allowed 
much more interaction time 
during various sessions at 
the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 
in Chennai"

Into his ninth month as Secretary in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, K Mohandas has infused new dynamism into the job. His methodical approach in dealing with issues of concern to Overseas Indians, and long-term thinking is bound to improve India's bonding with the diaspora. Editor Sayantan Chakravarty spoke to him recently

Please let us know the thinking behind holding the PBD at a place like Singapore? 
The PBD in January has been accepted as a very useful event. At the PBD there have been demands to hold Mini PBDs. The first of this kind was held in New York in 2007. Logically, the venue for the next one had to be elsewhere and Singapore showed very keen interest in hosting it. The Government of Singapore itself showed a great deal of keenness. A prime factor is the interest of the local hosts. There is also an involvement of a local chamber of commerce (SICCI). Also since one of the key areas of interest is investment, Singapore is seen as an ideal location for the PBD.

Do you see the South East Asian diaspora actively involved in India's growth and development story in the near future? 
Yes. The level of interaction is really increasing. We expect enhanced interaction including investment in tourism, and in cultural and educational segments. Malaysia too will have a considerable role to play.

As Chairman OIFC which regions and which areas are you focused on for getting investments and proposals from Overseas Indians? 
OIFC is in its initial stages. Geographically we are not focusing on any single region. They have planned investment meets in parts of the world that cover diaspora centres. So far, initial tie-ups with knowledge and investment partners have been in traditional areas like real estate, security market, and healthcare related areas. A further expansion is being worked out to facilitate infrastructure projects and the like. Specifics will be done in consultatation with ministries like Power and Transport.

Is there progress on the setting up of the NRI-PIO University? 
The Manipal Group will set up the PIO University. Two hundred acres of land has been identified for the purpose near the new Bangalore airport. The Group has provided an initial project idea to the Ministry. A detailed project report is expected soon. The report will be evaluated by a committee of academicians, departmental officers and representatives of various statutory authorities like the UGC, MCI, AICTE. Since it is a greenfield university even civil works will have to be undertaken afresh. The first academic session should start in 2010. About 50 per cent seats will be reserved for NRIs and PIOs.

Please let us know how you have taken your proposal for securing Indian emigrant workers further? 
One of the effective methods for protection of workers is to have labour agreements with destination countries. Now we are negotiating such agreements with Bahrain, Oman and Malaysia, these are expected to be signed in the next 2-3 months. These will help lay down measures for protection and welfare of emigrant workers and ensure that their recruitment takes place in accordance with laws of both countries. It envisages setting up of joint working groups to thrash out issues. Such agreements are in place with UAE, Qatar, Jordan. 

It appears that the scheme for Overseas Citizen of India cards has been a great success? What is the advantage of having this card? 
OCI scheme has indeed been a success. The number of cards issued is now around 300,000. The card is a recognition of one's Indianness. It also provides a lifelong visa for visiting India, and enables overseas Indians to pay the same rates at certain category of museums, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

The connectivity with India in terms of participation in its economic growth and keeping cultural ties alive will be sustained by the young Indian diaspora. In this context, how successful have the Know India Programmes been? 
Very positive feedbacks have been received from those who have thus far attended the KIPs. This year we have two partner states. The youth from all over the world have shown a keen interest in participating.

Would you please let us know about the India Development Foundation? 
The IDF matter should be placed before the Cabinet soon.

Why Chennai for PBD? Also will there be a shift in focus for the 7th PBD? 
At Chennai the key theme will remain the same – Engaging the Diaspora: The Way Forward. While the general focus does not change, we are trying to bring in certain improvements for more meaningful participation by visiting members of the Indian diaspora. At every session, a third of the time will be reserved for interactions and discussions. We want specific outcomes and action points to emerge at the end of every session. Chennai turned out to be a logical choice as in any case we’ve planned to take the PBD to different cities in India. In the past, we've had one in Mumbai, another in Hyderabad. The PBD ncluding the evening events will be held at the Chennai Trade Centre. The OIFC marketplace will be active throughout.

October 2008

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