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NRIs can vote only if present in India: Vayalar Ravi (Interview)

New Delhi, June 14 (IANS) The NRI voting rights bill is likely to be passed in the monsoon session of parliament but there is no possibility of postal ballots for Non-Resident Indians (NRI), says Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi.

‘There is no question of postal ballots because bogus voting will be a concern. So they have to be physically present in the country to be able to vote,’ Ravi told IANS in an interview.

Ravi, a Rajya Sabha MP, said the NRI voting rights bill is expected to be passed during the monsoon session of parliament.

‘It will be passed in the next session of parliament,’ he said.

A meeting of a Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was held held June 10. It was chaired by A.K. Antony. Also present were Ravi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Law Minister Veerappa Moily and Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal.

‘The demand for voting rights for people who live abroad – especially in the Gulf, the numbers into millions, so naturally it’s a genuine demand – was difficult to meet as names get deleted from the voters list if they are absent from the country for more than six months,’ Ravi said.

‘But when I became a minister, the demand grew stronger, most of them in the Gulf being Malayalis; and because I speak the same language, they wanted me to take up the issue.’

However, Ravi said voting rights for NRIs while residing in other countries can be considered only after the introduction of the electronic voting system in the country.

He said: ‘There is a proposal for electronic voting in India but not now. When we have that we can look into voting from their respective places of residence.’

Citing other efforts made by his ministry, he said welfare funds for people returning to India and their rehabilitation is an ambitious and top priority project.

‘That is an ambitious project and of top priority which has been mooted. We could not get money from the central government. But we are formulating something through which money could be used from my own budget with a contributory system; so we are working it out.

‘The second stage of this is to encourage NRIs to contribute towards this after analysing how much to and how to contribute.’

Ravi is hoping for a ‘revolutionary change’ in the increasing trend of illegal migration from India after the new Emigration Management Bill is passed.

He said: ‘It (Emigration Management Bill) has gone to the secretaries committee. Once it comes through it will make a revolutionary change. It will be more beneficial to the people looking to go outside India.

‘The first thing is to check the corruption and exploitation of the poor. We will then run a big campaign to educate the people to create awareness on how to go about immigration.’

Though the Council for Overseas Employment (COE), at the moment concentrating on Europe, has signed an agreement with Denmark and is in further talks with other European nations, Ravi is doubtful about the possibility of any such agreement with the US.

He said: ‘I am afraid the US many not come forward, with their situation and system of visa issuing being different. They are fixing a quota for every country. But, yes, I won’t rule out that this council (COE) has the authority to tie up with any country.’

Explaining the delay in issuing the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card that allows the diaspora visa-free visits to India, he said the ministry is faced with a huge demand.

‘It has now crossed 600,000; now the response is big and the demand is huge, but it cannot be issued without verification; so there are slight and obvious delays,’ Ravi told IANS.

‘Whatever you do, there will be some delay because the government always comes with certain regulations,’ he added.

Tax exemption on NRI investments is another area that his ministry is considering. He said there is a concern that NRIs may choose not to deposit their funds in India.

‘They have questioned us as to why they should deposit in India if they are being taxed. So we have taken it up with other deciding authorities in the government. We are yet to take a final call,’ Ravi said.

(Lakshmi Krishnakumar can be contacted at lakshmi.k@ians.in)

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