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India calling: NRI entrepreneurs flocking back to homeland
Enjoying the perks of not only being the world’s largest democracy but a country with untapped and unlimited growth potential, India is suddenly witnessing a surge in ‘Reverse Brain Drain’ trend. Though no research is currently available to quantify actual number of returnees, it is estimated that thousands of highly educated and skilled people are returning home every year.
A joint research report by the Duke University, University of Berkeley and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship in the US proves that as many as 60 per cent of the NRIs have returned to India to explore business opportunities. The report also shows that half of the NRIs have started their own ventures in India and almost 79 per cent NRIs have returned only because of growing demand for their skills in India.
According to latest IMF projection, India is expected to surpass China in terms of growth rate in 2016. The recent economic boom not only resulted in the upliftment of the standard of living but has also created a generation of well educated and ambitious young talent working towards bringing a paradigm shift in country’s economic and business landscape. Having said that, the contribution of NRIs in creating efficient business models and ecosystem in India could no longer be ignored. Sensing the opportunities India’s thriving economy is offering, these NRIs are acting as a driving force towards change.
NRIs Returning to India
“The Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem was the triggering point for my return to India in January 2011,” shares Vikram Upadhyaya, Chief Mentor and Accelerator Evangelist, GHV Accelerator. A Graduate from University of Tokyo, Upadhyaya started his entrepreneurial journey way back in 1999. Besides being a serial entrepreneur, Upadhyaya has a diversified experience in handling Japanese offshore projects to global corporate strategy and specialises in new ventures turnaround.
When asked about his decision to return home, Upadhyaya replies, “It was quite a big decision in my life when I and my family decided to relocate to India from a place where we lived for over 15 years, a city that is described as one of the most safe, developed and prosperous destinations of the world – Tokyo.”
In 2008, when Upadhyaya was trying to establish the TiE – Tokyo chapter along with mentoring and investing in Indian start-ups like Druva, Stayzilla, Merinews, IndiaCollegeSearch etc, he met Kanwal Rekhi, who was also visiting Tokyo along with other TiE – Tokyo Founding Members. Also known as the father of Indian entrepreneurship, Rekhi is an Indian-American businessman, venture capitalist, angel investor and an entrepreneur. He is currently serving as the Managing Director of Inventus Capital Partners.
“Over my three days of interaction with him, I realised that if I wanted to do something impactful for the country and empower entrepreneurs, I will have to be in their ecosystem. In 2011, I finally decided to be a part of the change and committed myself towards working to empower the Indian entrepreneurial and start-up ecosystem,” asserts Upadhyaya.
Through Green House Ventures (GHV), Upadhyaya looks to close investments in 10 promising startups from India every year. He plans to put $100K against 20 per cent equity in each startup and complete the acceleration programme, which will help startups close Series A and go global.
Similarly, Chennapa Naidu Darapaneni, a 40 year old first generation serial entrepreneur, moved to US soon after completing his engineering from JNTU-Ananthapur. He started his career as a Software Engineer and after working in various roles, he founded Versant Technologies Inc in the year 2000 in US. Subsequently, Darapaneni expanded its operations in India in 2004.
“After spending 10 years in the US, I felt India has much more potential for the growth in the long run. While this is the first and foremost motivating factor, we also thought from a family point of view that our children should grow in India with our culture at the core,” says Darapaneni, Founder and CEO, Versant Online Solutions Pvt. Ltd.
Meanwhile, on returning to India in 2007, he launched MeraEvents.com to address the grave issues faced by the event industry in India. His other brain child event technology solutions include – EasyTag, Digibroc, MoozUp, and Venues.MeraEvents.com.
Today, MeraEvents has emerged as a one-stop solution for the events and trade fair industry (promotion, ticketing and event listing) in India. Under Darapaneni’s able leadership, MeraEvents recently raised $1 million in funding from OMICS international.
Tech enthusiast Deepak Gagneja started its first technology product company Shrishti in the year 1996. At that point of time, he found very hard to sell CRM software to enterprises in India. Whereas, similar companies like Siebel and Peoplesoft in more developed countries was gaining success in the CRM space. In 1999, when Bharti Airtel acquired Shrishti’s IP, Gagneja decided to move to Silicon Valley to learn how technology companies operate in mature markets.
In Silicon Valley, Gagneja worked in various renowned enterprise software companies like Kabira and Oracle. After gaining rich experience, he kick started his new venture Lecorpio in the year 2006. The firm soon became a leading IP management software company and served clients like Apple, Google, Amazon and several other Fortune 500 companies. Later in the year 2012, Lecorpio got acquired by a US-based private equity firm.
During his tenure of 15 years in the Silicon Valley, Gagneja saw various technological innovations happening in the healthcare space, especially in Europe and US. After returning to India in August 2013, he decided to launch his own venture in the healthcare technology space, and eventually started MorningPlum Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. in the early 2014.
Expressing his thoughts on the same, Gagneja narrates, “After spending a decade in Silicon Valley, it became clear to me that technology has the potential to impact every industry and every person on the planet. And for me, there was no place better than my home country to witness this change.”
Gurgaon-headquartered MorningPlum provides patients with convenient, high quality and affordable access to highly skilled doctors, nurses and healthcare services in more than 100 locations. “With increasing prosperity, consumers want good health, they are more open to new ideas and are ready to pay for value. Widespread mobile adoption makes it easier to connect with consumers in multiple ways and treat them at reduced costs,” says Gagneja.
Ease of doing business
Experts echo the fact that though doing business in India has become relatively easier as compared to mid 90s, India still has a long way to go considering the fact that the government is encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship in a big way.
In Upadhyaya’s words, “Doing business in India is relatively easier now than it was when I moved out of India in the mid-90s. From registering a company to filing a tax return or from hiring a team to selling the company, it has become quite easy now. However, there is a scope for improvement. When we compare the same with the developed countries like Singapore or Japan, registering a private limited company is a day’s job there, but in India, it still requires more than 2 weeks!.”
Though the government is trying to liberalise the conditions over the years, but still a lot needs to be done to bring India on par with other best ecosystems in the world. Speaking on the same lines, Darapaneni shares, “India supports large enterprises. In order to emerge as one of the best ecosystems of the world, the government must encourage a favourable atmosphere for small and medium enterprises.”
Gagneja, on the other hand, believes that doing business in India has become easier on the consumer front than on the government side. He explains, “When it comes to customer acquisition, the business environment has become easier. The recent success of e-commerce companies indicate that the market size is growing and it is easier to reach consumers directly today. On the government side, we need more proof on the ground.”
Various government initiatives such as ‘Billion$Babies’, ‘10,000 startups’, ‘Make in India’ have been undertaken to boost the startup ecosystem and entrepreneurial spirit in India. But the success of these initiatives depends on how favourable the policies are for startups.
Experts are of the view that Company law; Registrar of Companies and its treatment towards startups; Taxation for startups and investors; Ease of registering a company; Access to seed capital and its terms; and Subsidising incubators are some of the areas where policy makers need to look at. Also, a high level of transparency and reliability is required in business, economic and regulatory affairs.
“India should be seen as a startup friendly nation. To encourage entrepreneurship, both State and Central governments should allocate funding for cash grants, debt financing, incubators and tax incentives,” points Gagneja.
Difference in business approach
Indian market dynamics are quite different from the rest of the world, which can be categorised under three Ps – People, Process and Paycheques. “The business approach is very different in India because a lot of vulnerabilities are associated with the standards as these are not followed strictly or even adhered to, unlike other developed countries. Moreover, the regional challenges also pose hurdles and hinder business environment,” explains Upadhyaya.
Further, lack of funding is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for startups. With more financing options, this risk can be mitigated to some extent. Sharing his views on the same, Gagneja says, “A vibrant ecosystem promotes experiment, which is the key to success for entrepreneurship, where the probabilities of success are low and extremely skewed.”
Also, the present finance and credit ecosystem in India is not at all favourable for the budding entrepreneurs. Expressing his thoughts on the same, Darapaneni says, “The financing and credit ecosystem in India doesn’t support any company, which is not profitable and has not completed its three years of existence. This creates hurdles for budding entrepreneurs as it takes much longer time to become profitable.”
Today, an entrepreneur needs to operate in a globally-competitive environment. Hence, the government should create a competitive advantage for entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs in India for things to change for better. Sharing his final thoughts, Upadhaya indicates that all entrepreneurs must adhere to the T.E.S.T. concept (Team, Execution, Scalability, and Technology) in order to build globally competitive and sustainable products.
India in post globalisation is welcoming NRIs as they have global exposure that can be translated into innovative ideas. NRIs have got the best of both the worlds – education, work possibilities, exposure, and a skill-set which both complement the working environment here and fill the growing demand of such individuals. We salute NRIs who are taking positive initiatives towards building a strong startup ecosystem in India. In future, we are hopeful that the new government will further ease the business environment in India.
Kerala to route NRI remittances to infra through special outfit
The Kerala government plans to float a special outfit to tap the investments of 2.4 million expatriates from the state. The homeward remittances from the diaspora have crossed R72,000 crore in 2013-2014. “The outfit, thus formed, would be able to rally the remittances to productive investment, especially the major infrastructure projects of the state.
Cochin International Airport (CIAL), the country’s first greenfield airport under the PPP (public private participation) mode, has been delivering high returns to the non-resident investors, giving confidence for further investment under this mode. But, the detailing on the structure of the special purpose vehicle is yet to take a final shape,” according to chief minister’s office sources.
Kerala is the top recipient, accounting for 33% of India’s NRI remittances in 2014, says World Bank’s estimates. Following the wide clamour for diaspora investment in mega-projects articulated at the Pravasi Bharathiya Divas in Gandhinagar, last fornight, the meeting of the non-resident Keralites at Kochi this week has also furthered the demand for an expat-investment facilitating outfit. The NRIs were also impressed by the track-record that CIAL investors had recovered as much as 130% of their money, once the airport went functional.
The onus of coming up with a commision to manage the NRI investment is on the state government agency Norka-Roots. Chief minister Oommen Chandy had even offered land ceiling exemptions for the right investor.
Punjab to review policies concerning NRIs
Acting on the suggestions received from NRIs during Sangat Darshans across the state, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today announced review of the state government’s major policies concerning the well being of NRIs.
Addressing the NRIs on the final day of the event here, the Chief Minister said in order to facilitate the NRIs in early resolution of the problems related to Police department, the state government was contemplating to give the powers regarding enquiry of cases against them to the local Senior Superintendent of Police (SSPs).
He said in order to prevent any undue harassment of NRIs by fake police complaints at present, any complaint against them was investigated at the level of the Inspector General (IG) of NRI cell.
Describing the NRIs as ambassadors of Punjab, Punjabi and “Punjabiyat” in foreign countries, he said they were both an asset as well as pride of the entire Punjabi community so it was the duty of the state government to ensure their welfare.
Likewise, the Chief Minister, said going by the pendency of the Revenue Courts, the work of these also needs to be streamlined for which the state government would take the necessary steps.
He said that NRI brethren have to wait for long to get their cases resolved in these courts so the state government would take adequate steps to expedite the process of clearing these cases.
The Chief Minister also announced that in order to ensure better participation of the NRI brethren to develop the state, the Punjab government would remove the shortcomings in the matching grant scheme so that the Punjabi Diaspora settled abroad could be more actively involved in the development of their native village/ town.
The Chief Minister also announced that the process for evacuation of the properties of NRIs in the state would also be made hassle free so that they do not face any sort of problem. He reiterated the commitment of the state government to ensure the welfare of the Punjabi Diaspora adding that every step would be taken to ensure their well being.
Mr Badal also called upon the NRIs to give their suggestions for improving the functioning of the government to the NRI Affairs department for better functioning of the state government towards their welfare.
Earlier, Minister for NRI Affairs Jathedar Tota Singh, while welcoming the Chief Minister, hailed his vision for holding these Sangat Darshans.
CM invites Pbi Diaspora to open NRI schools in Punjab
In a move aimed at further cementing the bond of NRI brethren with their motherland, the Punjab Chief Minister Mr. Parkash Singh Badal today exhorted the Punjabi Diaspora to establish NRI schools across the state for connecting their future generations with their roots and glorious legacy of the state.
Addressing the massive gathering here during the second NRI Sangat Darshan here today, the Chief Minister said that through their sheer hard work and dedication the Punjabi NRIs had proved their mettle across the globe. However, he said that unfortunately the younger generations of the Punjabi Diaspora were somewhat detached from the land of their forefathers due to which the need of the hour was to reverse this trend by making all out efforts in this direction. Mr. Badal said that this goal could be achieved only if the NRIs take the initiative of opening NRI schools across the state.
The Chief Minister said that these schools should be built exclusively for the NRI students and should be run by the management comprising of NRIs. He said that the standard of these schools should be at par with the schools being run in the foreign countries so that the NRI kids could be imparted hi-end school education. “The NRI students must study in these schools for atleast five years, so that they could be acquainted with the rich cultural heritage of their parental land” added Mr. Badal.
Listing the initiatives taken by the state government to facilitate the NRI brethren in the state, the Chief Minister said that the Punjab government has decided to set up separate NRI cell in every district across the state for facilitating them in getting their routine administrative works done smoothly. He said that the Deputy Commissioners of every district would be asked to provide a separate room for this cell in the respective District Administrative Complexes (DACs) so that the NRPs could be able to get their work done in a prompt and hassle free manner.
Likewise, the Chief Minister said that he has asked the Home Secretary of the state to review the list of NRI Proclaimed Offenders (POs) so that no injustice was done to NRIs, who were not involved in any crime. Mr. Badal further said that the Revenue department has started a statewide campaign for the division of property falling in Joint accounts of the family adding that the department has been asked to complete this task by March end as the NRIs were facing a lot of problems in such matters.
The Chief Minister further said that Punjab Urban Rent Control Act has been implemented to secure NRI property. Likewise, he said that to save Punjabi youth from migration related frauds and harassment, the Prevention of Human Trafficking/Smuggling Act has been enacted. Mr. Badal further said that to ensure speedy disposal of NRIs cases in respect of Revenue, the powers of Assistant Collectors of the First Grade have been conferred upon all the District Revenue Officers of the State of Punjab in their respective districts to decide their cases. Likewise, he said that Special Civil Court for NRIs has been made functional at Jalandhar adding that network of NRI Police stations have been set up in the state along with a special NRI cell under the IGP rank officer.
The Chief Minister further said that to facilitate the Punjabis settled abroad 38 NRI Numberdars have been appointed in the state. Likewise, he said that Punjab Compulsory Registration of Marriage Act, 2012 has been enacted and even Naib Tehsildars have been authorized to register marriage. Mr. Badal said that in order to safeguard the interest of NRIs the state government has set up NRI Commission in Punjab.
Similarly, the Chief Minister said that 10% reservation in Industrial/ Residential plots have been made by the state government to enable the NRIs in purchasing property in the state. In the same manner he said that a scheme for village development through joint investment by NRI and Government has already been initiated. Mr. Badal further said that for the first time NRI Journalists have been given Accreditation facility and also benefits of Free Accidental Insurance cover.
Meanwhile the Sangat Darshan for NRIs got an overwhelming response from the Punjabi Diaspora as the venue of this event was packed with the NRIs hailing from Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran and Amritsar districts. The Chief Minister personally interacted with the NRIs during the Sangat Darshan in the presence of the top brass of the state government and passed on necessary directions to the officers/ officials for the immediate resolution of their issues. Mr. Badal remained at the venue for the entire day to patient hearing to the grievances of hundreds of NRIs.
Highlighting the importance of this Sangat Darshan program, the Chief Minister said that it was on record that this flagship program of the state government has always been instrumental in mitigating the woes of common people. He said that the concept of Sangat Darshan was an integral part of state’s governance as it virtually brought the government at the doorsteps of people thereby bridging the communication gap between the masses and administration, which normally hindered the process of progress. Mr. Badal further said that besides acting as a catalyst for redressing the grievances of people, the Sangat Darshan programs were also helpful for the state government to adjudge the working of officers of the various departments.
Earlier welcoming the Chief Minister and other dignitaries during this Sangat Darshan, NRI Affairs Minister Punjab Jathedar Tota Singh said that these Sangat Darshans would go a long way in mitigating the woes of the NRP brethren.
Prominent amongst other present on the occasion included Cabinet Ministers Mr. Sohan Singh Thandal and Chunni Lal Bhagat, Chief Parliamentary Secretaries Mr. KD Bhandari and Mr. Pawan Tinu, MLAs Bibi Jagir Kaur, Mr. Sarwan Singh Phillaur, Mr. Pargat Singh and Mr. Gurpartap Singh Wadala, Chairman District Planning Committee Jalandhar Mr. GS Channi, Chairman District Planning Committee Kapurthala and former MLA Mr. Sarabjit Singh Makkar, Chairman Markfed Mr. Jarnail Singh Wahid, Additional Chief Secretary Mr. Jagpal Singh, Financial Commissioner Revenue Mr. Karan Avtar Singh, Principal Secretary NRI Affairs Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Commissioner Jalandhar Division Mr. R Venkatratnam and Deputy Commissioners of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran and Amritsar.
NRIs not investing in Punjab, admits CM
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has admitted that the state has not been able to attract NRI money though his government had been asking them to invest in their native state. “The next generation of the NRIs born and brought up abroad is not ready to shift here or start new ventures. There are sort of personal reasons of NRIs that they have not invested here,” said Badal while responding to a query after holding special ‘sangat darshan’ for NRIs from seven districts of Doaba and Majha regions.
“Though companies from abroad are investing here, individual investments in business or industry have not come to the state,” CM added.
For the last seven years, Punjab government has been inviting NRIs to invest in the state and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal had even gave powerpoint presentations during the NRI Sammelans in 2008 and 2009 projecting the state as a favourable destination for investments. Apart from trying to play the emotional card of asking the NRIs to invest in the state of their birth, it was projected that the state government would make the atmosphere congenial for them to start up businesses in Punjab. Even during the Parvasi Bharat Sammelan held in Gujarat recently, Punjab CM had given a call to the NRIs to come to the state to establish their industry.
Meanwhile, responding to another query CM said that if officials worked earnestly then the number of complaints from expatriates reaching him would be much less. “With the sangat darshan I am able to monitor things and know what is happening on ground. It gives me feedback also. Most of the complaints pertain to revenue department and emerge from the family disputes,” CM said after hearing complaints from 200 NRIs.
He also revealed that in one or two cases involvement of officials, who had their vested interests in the disputes, had also come up. Badal also urged the NRIs to establish special schools for their children in Punjab so that they could study in the state at least for a couple of years which would help them to connect to the land of their ancestors.
“The government will help them but they should come forward for the endeavor,” he said. He also said while Punjab home secretary and DGP had been asked to review all cases in which NRIs had been declared proclaimed offenders, the state government would also consider setting up of special NRI cells in all districts – suggestion that had come up during a ‘sangat darshan’ held earlier.
Fewer complaints from Doaba
Though Doaba is heartland of NRIs, there were only 233 complaints from the region at the sangat darshan’ on Friday. This stands in contrast to 7,992 complaints received by NRI wing of Punjab police in 2014. Maximum complaints received on Friday were from Jalandhar district (122) while minimum were from Pathankot (2).
Movie on Badal: Sukhbir proposes, father disposes
While the deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal had said that a movie would be made on Badal senior and the history of Akali Dal, Punjab CM said no film should be made on him. “I have made it very clear that neither any book should be written on me nor any movie would be made about me,” the Akali patriarch clarified.
Safeguarding NRI interests against a stronger rupee
These are exciting times for India. It’s only a few months since Narendra Modi swept to power on the back of a commitment to financial and business reforms to help transform the country’s struggling economy.
Some initial disappointment in July at the failure of his inaugural budget to deliver meaningful new direction has been replaced by fresh optimism in the wake of a number of policy announcements and initiatives. Falling global oil and gas prices have also provided a timely boost to the economy, which is heavily reliant on fuel imports and so one of the most sensitive in the world to global energy prices.
More importantly for India’s long-term prospects, Modi is showing that he means to deliver on his reform agenda. He recently presented plans to overhaul non business-friendly labour laws, removed diesel prices from state control — relieving the government of a costly subsidy — and taken steps to denationalise the coal industry. In another well-received move, he has appointed an eminent new chief economic adviser in Arvind Subramanian.
Furthermore, helped by the falling oil and gas prices, the Reserve Bank of India could soon cut interest rates, providing an immediate boost to many sectors of the economy, including the consumer.
The optimism back home extends to many of us living and working overseas and Modi’s economic policies are a frequent topic of discussion among my fellow Indian expats here.
Buoyant as this mood may be, a resurgent Indian economy creates important and serious practical matters for non-resident Indians (NRIs) to consider. The likelihood of a strengthening rupee will have a material impact on NRIs with financial commitments in India. Why?
In my case, my salary is paid in dirhams and I have savings and investments held in dollars. In India I have a mortgage, local investment plans and insurance policies, each of which require regular payments in Indian rupees, which I must convert from dollars or dirhams to meet.
Other common expenses faced by NRIs back in India include school and university fees and financial support for family members. Some of us also have weddings to pay for in the future.
All the while the rupee has been weak or declining against the dollar and dirham, my rupee-based financial commitments are more easily manageable within the budgets I have allocated for them. But this could change as the Indian economy grows and the Indian currency appreciates.
Longer-term considerations may also need addressing. Most NRIs plan to return to India permanently one day — as evidenced by research undertaken by Friends Provident International that showed more than 70 per cent of Indian expats in the UAE intend to spend their retirement in their home country.
If I do this, I may want to repatriate non-rupee denominated assets and investments. Any growth in their value may well be dented by rupee gains made against their base currencies between now and when I return to India.
Some of the steps I am taking to address these issues include reviewing my savings and investments with a view to gradually, perhaps over a few years, transferring some of them into rupee-denominated assets, such as Indian mutual funds, and transferring some of my portfolio back into directly held investments in India.
In my experience, by diversifying my portfolio through increasing exposure to rupee-denominated assets I can help ensure there is some hedging in place to protect against rupee appreciation. My currency risk can therefore be reduced and my investments will also be in a position to benefit from the expected long-term growth in India’s economy and stock market.
Furthermore, in the event that, in 10 or 20 years, I want to convert rupee-denominated assets back into dollars or dirhams, I hope to be able to enjoy an additional uplift on their value as a result of a strengthened rupee against these currencies.
Diaspora seeks NRI Act
The stage is set for the second NRI Sangat Darshan at Jalandhar tomorrow, but NRIs seem apprehensive about its success. They want a separate NRI legislation enacted in the state.
Satnam Singh Chahal, executive director, North American Punjabi Association, said the state government had not been able to establish even a single exclusive NRI fast-track court in the state so far.
“The lone NRI court at Jalandhar continues to hear hundreds of cases pending with it before it was converted into an exclusive NRI court. Around 220 cases are heard in the court every day. How would the government ensure speedy justice to NRIs in this scenario?” he said.
Avtar Singh, a Phagwara-based NRI, said DSP, Baba Bakala, Sohan Singh summoned him to the police station a day before his flight to England on September 6 last year and interrogated him for his alleged role in a human-trafficking racket. “They summoned me on the basis of a complaint they had received by post. I was summoned to the police station nine times, but they did not register any of my visits in the official record,” he alleged.
“It was only after I approached Border Zone IG Ishwar Chander that I was given a clean chit by the police a few days ago,” he added.
Accepting the lapse, DSP Sohan Singh said the complaint was found to be fake. However, no case had been registered against unidentified complainant till date, he added. The Punjab Government boasts of being the first state to have launched an exclusive NRI police wing for helping out NRIs, but the NRI Affairs Department continues to be flooded with complaints against the police wing.
According to a complaint sent by Amrik Singh, a US-based NRI, to IG Gurpreet Deo, his paralytic father residing in India was killed and cremated by his uncle’s family in 2005. While the Health Department said he died due to brain haemorrhage, the record maintained at the cremation ground said the death was due to cancer. Even after so many years, the NRI police wing had failed to come out with the facts in the case.
NRI Legal Services Opened New Office In London
NRI Legal Services has opened new office in London to cater services to NRIs who have land/Property issues in India.
Feel free to visit our office and take maximum advantage of our local presence in London.
Ground Floor , Cervantes House
5-9 Headstone Road , Harrow
London, HA1 1PD
Ph.No. 02033558950, 07725816916
Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas: Government should consider separate ministry for NRIs, says Prakash Hinduja
NRI to push for E-postal ballot voting
A doctor here said he is going to fight for an E-postal ballot option as India considers voting rights for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in Indian elections after a nine-month long legal battle.
“I will push for E-postal ballot in the next hearing at the Indian Supreme Court as it can be implemented immediately without amending existing electoral law,” said Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, who petitioned the court for this cause.
The E-postal ballot, one of the two systems proposed by the Election Commission of India, requires election officials to send postal ballot paper by email to registered NRI voters abroad who can access the ballot paper through a password already allotted to him during the registration process.
The voter has to download the ballot paper, cast the vote and send it back to election officials by post or courier after getting a declaration attested. Self-attestation of the declaration or attestation by Indian diplomatic missions is under consideration.
The court has been responding positively to the idea of NRI voting rights and if the E-postal ballot option is accepted by the court in the next hearing, it can be implemented in the local body elections in the southern Indian state of Kerala in September 2015, said Dr Vayalil, 37, who is also from Kerala.
Vayalil is the managing director of VPS Healthcare that runs a chain of hospitals and clinics in the Gulf, India and Europe.
The Kerala state government has already announced its willingness to give voting rights to NRIs, considering the possibility of a favourable court verdict. Almost a million Keralites constitute the largest community among Indians in the UAE.
The second option — proxy voting proposed by the Election Commission of India in response to the petition may require amending existing electoral laws by Indian Parliament, which may take time, Dr Vayalil said.
Although the Election Commission opined that both the proposed options [E-ballot and proxy voting] require amending existing electoral laws, the legal luminaries representing the petitioner have already challenged it in court. Moreover, the Government of India, not the Election Commission, has to take a final decision on this, which may be filed as an affidavit at the court in the next hearing. The legal luminaries hold the strong view that only proxy voting requires amending the law, he said.
“I took up the cause, realising that the problems of NRIs will be considered by the Indian politicians and government, only if we become a vote bank. A community’s voice is heard in democracy by that way only.”
He said once NRIs get voting rights, the Indian politicians will be keen to solve the long-time NRI issues such as air travel woes, education and health care issues of NRIs’ dependents in India etc.
“I realised this when I received Pravasi Bharathiya Samman, an award for NRIs at 2014 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an annual event organised by the Indian Government. NRIs in the Gulf mostly constitute low-income workers and their grievances raised at such forums do not make any impact,” he said.
He wanted to empower them with a concrete tool that will help them to be heard. The voting right will make such a change, Dr Vayalil said.