Friday, July 28, 2006

Unnecessary and unhelpful restrictions on Persons of Indian Origin

I have just started to look at the possibility of re-acquiring as much of Indian citizenship as I can.

Given my incessant travels, it became impossible for me to continue on an Indian passport, and the Indian government did not at that time allow dual citizenship, so I had to give up my Indian passport about 15 years ago. The Government of India introduced a scheme some years for "Persons of Indian origin". This was basically a life-long visitor's visa, but it was too expensive, so not many people acquired it (for example, I did not).

Last year a new "Overseas Citizenship of India" (OCI) scheme was introduced to extend the facilities available to people who became "Overseas citizens". This OCI scheme is also slightly cheaper than the old PIO scheme. Apparently, some 88 thousand people have now applied for it (while some 41 thousand have already been granted this - in neither case a huge number, by the way, but much better than the old PIO scheme - see for that story).

However, last year, when I wanted to apply for the OCI just before travelling to India, I was advised by the embassy that it was better/faster to apply for a simple visa as the procedures for the OCI scheme had not at that time been made known to the embassy.

Now that the procedures should be more or less well-established, and as I am not travelling incessantly for the next few weeks, I have just looked into this matter again, I find that the OCI gives people of Indian origin:
- Special counters at airports and other such check posts for speedy clearance.
- Life long multiple entry visa for India for any length of stay.
- removes, therefore, the need for a separate visa for (a) tourism (b) seeking admission to colleges/institutions (c) business (d) employment, etc.
- Exemption from registration with local Foreigners' Registration Office irrespective of duration of stay in India.

However, I am startled to see that it also gives "parity with NRIs in economic, financial and educational fields except in matters relating to acquisition of agricultural/ plantation properties". This is confusing. I thought Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) were Indian passport holders who are resident abroad for tax purposes?

So what is the "parity" supposed to mean in relation to "agricultural/ plantation properties"? Does it mean that an NRI cannot buy such property while an OCI can? Or does it mean that an OCI cannot buy such property while an NRI can? Either seems odd, as neither is resident in India for tax purposes, and it should not be the case that either should be allowed to buy property in India if they are not tax-resident in India.

However, I am even more startled to find that OCI is not entitled to undertake "any missionary work/mountaineering and research work, without the prior permission of the Government of India in accordance with the instructions issued from time to time". Does this mean that if I am an OCI and am invited to give a lecture on Hinduism at an Indian university or temple, I have to apply to some unspecified person for permission to do so? Are foreigners subject to the same restrictions? Are such restrictions applied or do they exist only in theory? Or, more likely, are they applied whenever any authority finds it in its financial or political interest to do so?

Poor OCIs are not even allowed to indulge in "mountaineering" without applying for permission. Naturally, there is no definition provided of what "mountaineering" is. How high does a mass of land have to be before it qualifies as a "mountain"?

Just in case you think this restriction is intended to protect India's border areas from mere mortals, that is not the case, for there is a separate clause about access to Restricted and Protected Areas.

Indeed, even "research" is forbidden for OCIs. I wonder if there is any definition of what constitutes "research"? For example, if I ask the way to my hotel from a passer-by, does that qualify as "research"?

What is the purpose of these idiotic restrictions anyway? Sphere: Related Content

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