I am very happy to welcome you all in this beautiful and historic city of Jaipur for this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Rajasthan represents Indian hospitality at its very best. It is renowned for its culture, heritage and legends of valour, honour and sacrifice. Today, symbols of modern Rajasthan sit side by side with monuments of breath-taking beauty. I am sure that your stay in this beautiful city will renew your pride in the richness of India’s civilization.
This year we are privileged to welcome one of the most distinguished Pravasi Bharatiyas as our Chief Guest. Madam Kamla Persad-Bissessar created history by becoming the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. She distinguished herself in her earlier careers in education and law. Subsequently, she responded to the call of public service and proved what a person of talent, dedication and commitment can achieve anywhere in this world.
In welcoming Prime Minister Madam Kamla Persad Bissessar today we also seek to honour the large Indian diaspora in the Caribbean. We are proud of their achievements. Their journey, often in very difficult circumstances, to those far-away lands began many, many years ago, but their links with India remain strong and deep. Our shared passion for cricket is well known. Which Indian sports fan does not know the names of cricketing legends like Brian Lara or Sonny Ramadhin.
This year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas marks the tenth anniversary of the event which was first held in the year 2003. This decade has been marked by a visible accretion in the influence and impact of the global Indian across the world. We have witnessed a steady growth in their numbers, levels of prosperity and their skills.
The government and people of India recognize and greatly value the important role being played by Indian communities living abroad. We believe that the Indian diaspora has much more to contribute to the building of modern India. We propose to facilitate, encourage and promote this engagement. Over the past year we have taken a number of steps towards this end.
Pursuant to the law that was enacted to enable non-resident Indians to vote in our national elections, the Government has issued notifications for registration of overseas Indians under the Representation of People Act, 1950. This constitutes the first major step to enable Indians resident abroad to participate in our election processes.
In the last session of our Parliament we have introduced a Bill intended to merge and streamline the People of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizen of India schemes by amending the Citizenship Act. This will rectify some of the anomalies in the schemes and provide for an Overseas Indian Card which will be given to foreign spouses of such card holders as well. A large number of workers from Rajasthan are emigrating abroad. We have accordingly established an office of the Protector of Emigrants in Jaipur. I am told that the Government of Rajasthan proposes to build a Pravasi Bharatiya Bhawan in Jaipur. This Bhawan will house the offices of not only the Protector of Emigrants but also a Migrant Resource Centre to provide on-site help to overseas Indians and emigrating workers.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is implementing the e-migrate project that will provide end-to-end computerized solutions for all processes in the emigration system. The system will link all key stakeholders on a common platform which will be used by workers, offices of the protector of emigrants, recruitment agencies, immigration officials, employers and the Indian missions abroad.
The scope of our Labour Mobility Partnership Agreements is being expanded to cover not only skilled workers but also students, academics and professionals. Such Human Resource Mobility Partnership agreements are being negotiated with The Netherlands, France, Australia and the European Union.
I am happy to inform you that the government has decided to introduce and sponsor a new Pension and Life Insurance Fund for overseas Indian workers. The scheme will encourage, enable and assist overseas workers to voluntarily save for their return and resettlement and old age. It will also provide a low-cost life insurance cover against natural death. This scheme fulfills a long pending demand of our workers abroad.
We are acutely conscious of the safety and security of Indians living abroad, particularly in regions characterized by instability.
There are over six million Indians living in the Gulf and West Asia. We need to be alert to the unfolding developments in this part of the world. We have conveyed to the countries of the region that we have a stake in the peace and stability of this region, and that we expect that they would appropriately look after the interests of Indian communities in their countries.
Following the upheaval in Libya last year, the Government undertook Operation Safe Homecoming to evacuate more than 16,000 people from the strife torn areas through special flights, passenger and naval vessels. Similar evacuations were carried out in Egypt and Yemen on a lower scale. We stand ready to extend such help elsewhere should the need arise.
Last year, the Government constituted an inter-Ministerial Committee under the Cabinet Secretary to make recommendations on issues relating to repatriation, relief and rehabilitation of Indian nationals affected by recent developments in West Asia. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has prepared an Action Plan to implement its recommendations.
The world is passing through a difficult phase. Many of you are experiencing first-hand the impact of the global economic slowdown. Employment opportunities have declined, there is greater protectionism and attitudes towards migration have also hardened. There is growing social intolerance even in more open societies.
Our country is also going through difficult times. Nonetheless, our economic fundamentals are strong and our constitutional processes are robust. We are up to the task of meeting these challenges we face as a nation. Despite an adverse international environment, the Indian economy is expected to grow by about 7% this financial year ending 31st March. However, we hope to bring back the rhythm of our growth processes to sustain an annual growth rate of 9-10% in the medium-term. Our domestic savings rate which currently stands at 33-35 percent of our GDP will greatly facilitate the realization of our growth objectives. Our efforts to battle inflation are producing results and there has been an improvement in the situation.
We have attempted sincerely to address the rising expectations of our people with regard to governance and delivery of public services. The Right to Information Act has proved to be a powerful instrument of bringing in transparency in governance. I am confident that some of the other legislations on these issues, which are now on the national agenda, will make a similar impact in the years ahead.
The theme for this year’s event is “Global Indian - Inclusive Growth.” Indian civilization and society have always been inclusive in character. It is only natural that our political and economic processes have also to be ‘inclusive’ in their orientation and in their outcome.
Over the past years, Indian democracy has deepened and gained in strength and vitality as more and more people from the disadvantaged sections of our society have secured their rightful place in our economic and political processes. We wish to unleash the vast human potential of the many millions, who for one reason or another, have been on the margins of our society in the past. Our government is committed to doing so by providing security of education, nutrition and health to every Indian so that he or she is empowered to live a life of dignity and well being. We are also committed to the pursuit of a development strategy which will protect our environment and the essential life-support systems of our planet.
We in India speak in different languages and follow different faiths. But Indian culture has a tradition of assimilating and accommodating diverse traditions, customs, beliefs and peoples. That is what makes Indian society, Indian civilization endure and flourish.
The ‘global Indian’ is a symbol of this diversity of our ancient land. Your individual prosperity and personal achievement are a symbol of what a diverse people like us can achieve.
Many of your forefathers were forcibly taken away from India as labourers; some migrated in distress. Yet, today, the People of Indian Origin are welcomed around the world for the values they represent – values of hard work, values of excellence and enterprise and respect for their communities, their families and their neighbours.
I welcome each one of you to India because I want each one of you to inspire our people with your creative example. May your path be blessed.