Non-Resident Indians to get voting rights in India

Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will be able to vote in the next general election in India, if a Bill, due to be introduced to Indian Parliament this month, is approved.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said the contents of the Representative of People’s Amendment Bill were approved by the ‘Group of Ministers’ of which he is a member, at its meeting held in New Delhi days before his arrival in New Zealand last week.

Among the other members of the Group are Defence Minister AK Antony, Law Minister Veerappa Moily and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.

The Bill will affect only those holding Indian passports, including Indian workers and students. Those on Overseas Indian Citizenship (OCI) and People of Indian Origin (PIO) status will not be allowed to vote or participate in Indian elections.

There are about one million NRIs living outside India.

According to the current law, Indians absent from their home country for more than six months will be struck off the electoral list.

Mr Ravi said it was time the role of this section of the Indian population was recognised and applauded.

He said Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had promised during his inaugural address at the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2010’ that NRIs would be given back their electoral franchise in time for the next poll in 2014.

“However, you must be in India to vote. There is no proposal to conduct voting through Embassies, High Commissions and other Diplomatic Missions. The Bill will ensure that you remain on the electoral roll,” he said, addressing a meeting of the Auckland Malayali Samajam soon after his arrival in the City on June 20.

He said it was ironic that his name was also deleted from the electoral list in his home (Chirayinkil in Thiruvanathapuram District of Kerala state) constituency, since he now lives in Delhi as a federal minister.

“We would like our people to exercise their rights in India. Our OCI scheme caters to former Indian passport holders who want a stronger link with their home country, while the PIO card accords most privileges,” he said.

Mr Ravi said more than 600,000 persons had obtained their OCI status since it was introduced five years ago.

He later inaugurated the current year’s activities of the Samajam (under President Roy Pallimalil) and congratulated Siju Jacob, Chief Editor of Kerala Nadu, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Malayalam monthy.

Among those who spoke at the gathering were Auckland Mayor John Banks, Indian High Commissioner Retired Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Members of Parliament Dr Jackie Blue, Dr Rajen Prasad and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Auckland Radiation Oncology Clinical Director Professor Chellaraj Benjamin.

Later, addressing a meeting of the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Mr Ravi invited members of the community to attend as delegates the next Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), due to be held in Delhi from January 7 to 9, 2010.

“There are many New Zealanders keen on investing in India but may not be aware of the procedures involved and the incentives available. PBD provides a unique platform to meet with State Chief Ministers and other Ministers and seek clarifications on all issues,” he said.

Among the dignitaries who spoke at the gathering were Mr Mehta, Dr Prasad, Mr Bakshi, NZICA President Paul Singh Bains and Auckland Indian Association President Harshad Patel.

The following day, speaking at a luncheon hosted by ANZ Bank, Mr Ravi outlined the business opportunities available for New Zealanders in India.

“India has become an investment destination and today foreign investors are involved in a number of areas. The Indian Diaspora can take advantage of the available incentives and relaxed regulations and promote joint ventures or establish businesses that would benefit them and the Indian economy,” he said.

Among those who attended the luncheon were Steve Savage, Head of Migrant Banking, Iain Leech, Head of Trade & Supply Chain, Sunil Kaushal, Senior Manager, Migrant Banking of ANZ Bank, Wenceslaus Anthony, Chair, India New Zealand Business Council, MPs Dr Rajen Prasad, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and others.

He later met a group of officials of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and expressed his satisfaction over the activities of the world body in the US and the significant role it plays in promoting the interest of India.

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