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Transcript of Media Briefing by MoS for External Affairs on PBD-2019 (January 11, 2018)

January 12, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, Good afternoon. Since we are meeting for the first time in the New Year I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2019. Today we are here for a special briefing on the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. This year it is being organized in Varanasi from 21st to 23rd January. The PBD will be followed by two additional celebrations first being Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj and then Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi.

To do the briefing today I have with me Dr. General V K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs. I also have Secretary CPV & OIA, Shri Dhyaneshwar Mulay and Jt. Secretary OIA, Shri Manoj Mahapatra. MoS will start with brief initial remarks. After his initial remarks we will open the floor to questions. Now I give the floor to MoS.

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh: A very warm welcome to all of you. Every year we celebrate the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. First Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas was started during the tenure of our late ex-Prime Minister, Bharat Ratna, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji. 9th of January was selected as the date because on that date our greatest non-resident Indian Mahatma Gandhi Ji came back to India.

During this current 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, first of all I would like to extend many thanks to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Shri Yogi Adityanath Ji and the government of Uttar Pradesh. And I would like to provide further impetus to that thanks as I am also a Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh.

Thanks because he readily accepted to become the partner state during this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. Now we are organizing this Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in Uttar Pradesh and its location is Varanasi which is the parliamentary constituency of our Prime Minister.

One thing which will crop up in your mind and many others will also enquire from you that every time when it is organized on 9th of January then why it is being organized late this time? So I would like to provide you with the clarification earlier on only.

Because this time we have Kumbh. Many of the diaspora members and the related institutions, whoever they used to meet they would request that this time please do something so that somehow we can visit the Kumbh. And if you remember last year we had invited all the ten Heads of Nation and States of ASEAN for our Republic Day celebrations. So the diaspora members said, you can invite them but why not us, after all we are Indians, we will also get a chance to witness the Parade.

So keeping all that in mind it was decided that this time the diaspora members get the chance to do both i.e. to visit the Kumbh and to witness the Republic Day Parade. Therefore we decided the dates to be 21-22-23 January. On 24th January we will take them to visit the Kumbh and we will bring them back to Delhi on 25th so that they can watch the Republic Day Parade.

Every year we increase the elements of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, this year also we have done so. First, since it will be organized in Varanasi so all the arrangements have been made in Varanasi. There was another great thing that happened in Varanasi, we received a proposal from its residents about a program of Varanasi Aatithya.

It is not Bread & Breakfast, it is hospitality. Under the concept of Varanasi Aatithya, the resident said that they wish to be the host of the visiting diaspora members, in accordance with the culture of Varanasi and they said they are willing to bear all the expenses relating to their stay etc.

Other than this we have also made other arrangements for their stay like in hotels, Swiss huts which are also called tented accommodation, have also been arranged so that they can have a comfortable stay and properly get to know Varanasi. They will should enjoy this whole event in caranasi and then we will take them to Kumbh by road.

The expenses on the visit of diaspora members to Kumbh for that day will be borne by the Uttar Pradesh Government as they have already made huge arrangements in the Kumbh and all the things are available there. Diaspora members will be in the Kumbh only for a day from morning to evening so the UP government said they will take care of the visiting diaspora members in the Kumbh.

We will bring the participating diaspora members to Delhi in the evening so that they can reach Delhi latest by the noon of 25th January. Ministry of Defence has made arrangements for 26th so that they can watch the Republic Day Parade of 26th January and feel proud because they might not have seen the Republic Day Parade like this earlier.

During the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas we have three days of programs. On the first day we have programs for the youth i.e. the Youth PBD in which we invite youth through different means and a program for them is organized. This will be held on 21st January. During the noon of 21st January all the participants of the Youth PBD will visit the Banaras Hindu University and there they will have a discussion with the Indian youth there. They will attend a cultural festival there along with having the dinner. During the afternoon of 21st January UP government is organizing their own diaspora day i.e. the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas for the diaspora members from the state of UP. This way they can also connect with the diaspora and showcase the developments of last two and a half years and project things which can evince interest from the diaspora members and they get an opportunity to participate in such programs.

Next day belongs to the Prime Minister in which he inaugurates and opens the formal plenary session of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and after that our sessions start.

As you are aware that we have made some changes in the series of Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and we have brought it from annual to once every alternate year. The year that comes in between two PBD sessions we chose few select topics on which we have very good discussions so that we can come up with certain good suggestions by brainstorming between scholars from the diaspora community and our Indian citizens here.

The recommendation of the panel discussions is then presented by the panel during the next Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and then it is discussed with all the members of the diaspora and others who have come to attend the PBD so that if there are any suggestions they can be incorporated and then implement the suggestions. This time we had very good discussions. For example we had discussions on Artificial Intelligence, waste management, solar energy etc. So a lot of such things were discussed from which we can benefit now and when these things will be discussed there then it is obvious that good things will come out of it.

These sessions go on till the afternoon of the next day and then it is time for the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards. The awards will be distributed by our Hon’ble President and by the evening the function comes to the end.

Second day of the PBD when Prime Minister will inaugurate the plenary, that evening there will be a program on Ganga Ji by Hema Malini. You might be aware that her program on Ganga River is quite renowned all over and because we will be there at the banks of Ganga so organizing this program in Varanasi itself will be really good.

In memory of Atal Ji and to pay him respects the auditorium in which the main program will be held has been named as the Atal Bihari Auditorium. Those who had been to Mauritius last year for the PBD would be aware that we name the auditorium after important people. Similarly we also organize an exhibition which depicts all the good things about Atal Ji. We also organize an exhibition in which we called different people from all over the world. This time also we have organized an exhibition on the topic of Ancient India, Modern India in which we have tried to showcase our journey and where do we stand today. ISRO and other institutions will also be there and showcase their achievements so that we can take them forward too.

The theme of this Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is Participation of Diaspora members in India, how to take India forward. Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth will be the chief guest and keynote speaker in this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas.

The two main personalities for the Youth PBD on first day are, one of them is Member of Parliament from Norway, Mr. Himanshu Gulati and the other is Member of Parliament from New Zealand Mr. Kamaljeet Bakshi. We have invited both of them and they will be our chief guest for the youth session in PBD.

We have planned almost seven sessions for the important discussions that we have had this year and we hope that a lot of good things will come out of it.

The things which are new this time are the scale of Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. It is being organized in Varanasi, then from Varanasi we will go to the Kumbh and from Kumbh we will come back here in Delhi, so in a way this itself is quite a big and if we see it involves some very heavy administrative tasks.

If we talk about registrations from the previous PBD then till now we have 5000 registrations for this PBD. Last time all of you who came to Bengaluru must remember that when we did the press briefing for PBD then we had only 500 registrations however this time we already have 5000 registrations so far. All the registrations till now are the paid ones. Now the registrations have been closed but if some people approach us we generally consider them because we really don’t want to stop anybody from visiting India.

Till now two Chief Ministers, from Haryana and Uttarakhand, have confirmed their participation. We invite all chief ministers so that they can come and talk about their respective states and if there is anything which is good in their state then that can be promoted further. Two chief ministers have confirmed and as and when other chief ministers will confirm you will get to know.

Other than this I would like to say only one thing, whether you take a dip in Kumbh then come here or you go to Kumbh after the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, but please do come and attend it. Many many thanks.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. Now you all can ask your questions, please do remember to identify yourself prior to asking the question.

Question from Asahi Shimbum: Sir, you said that this time you already have had 5000 registrations till now. If we compare this with last time, how many diaspora members attended last time around?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:See, what actually happens is the people who come from abroad, these 5000 are those who are actually coming from abroad, it also include OCI card holders. Last time, including both Indian participants and participants from abroad, the total number was 5000 in which the number of Indian residents was higher but this time we have crossed the registration mark of 5000, so this time the numbers are very high. May be it is an effect of the program that we have finalized this time or it could be a result of the Varanasi Aatithya also.

Question: You said that the administrative work has increased manifold, moving from here to there and so on. So will we have translators following the participants, for the language problem that they might face?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh: Dekhiye bhasha ki jyada problem nahi hai. (Not much of an issue.) Most of them who come, even people who come from Fiji although they are from Fiji and they are OCI card holders, either they will converse in English or in Hindi. There may be some who come from francophone countries, everybody finds a way. Even if you leave people with various languages in one room they will find a way to communicate.

Question: You will take them to Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela, that is ok because the Sangam area of the Kumbh is quite good as the arrangements have been made there but the whole city is in the dug up condition and if you go about city you will be covered in the dust, so what kind of impression are we going to create?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:See, the amount of work that has been carried out in Allahabad this time is unprecedented. Roads have become wider, people said that they will provide the requisite space, things will get better by then. We have a specialty that the preparations go on till the very last minute but when it is the final time everything just gets fine, don’t worry, everything will be fine.

Question from DNA: The amount of exchequer money that is being spent on this, does it match our foreign policy outreach i.e. the investments that is made by the OCI’s? Can we say that it contributes to our foreign policy outreach and it matches exactly what we have spend on these events?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh: See, foreign policy outreach involves a lot of things, some are obvious and some are not so obvious. Federation of Indian Association organizes a very big parade in the month of August in New York which is known as India Day Parade. They spend a lot of money on that parade. Do we say that all that is waste of money? The amount of money that our diaspora members send to India, which is not visible to everybody, the amount of remittances that we get back to India, that is not visible to everybody but their effect is not obviously visible to everybody. So bringing up the issue of expenditure being made by the exchequer is not right, now these 5000 people are visiting by paying for themselves. Whatever we spend on we do it after much deliberations and what I believe that the message that we put across through this and the way we have structured the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, it definitely improves our outreach.

Question from Rajya Sabha TV: The home stay in Varanasi that you talked about, was it finalized during the registration process or later on? My second question is that this Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas was started during the tenure of Atal Bihari Ji, now the diaspora members when they come here they face a lot of problems for which they don’t know whom to contact, so do we have a cell in our ministry which can address the complaints of diaspora members?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:See, first thing is that we advertised about the Varanasi Aatithya on our website from the start. I will not call it Home Stay, it will call it hospitality and many people have opted for it. We hope that when all of them will come together then many more will opt for it. We are making arrangements as per the option provided on our website which had asked for a choice of stay whether they wanted to stay in hotels, tented accommodations or in the Varanasi Aatithya.

The other thing that you asked about is complaints, you see they are never ending. When they come here they come with their old complaints which they give to us and which is forwarded by us. We have made a division in our ministry which looks after states, so we discuss these issues with states and forward to them.

This is similar to the way army personnel have the complaints, most of the times they are posted at someplace else and nobody listens to them but when they go there things are taken care of. Here I would like to tell you one more thing, just like there is Tehsil Diwas in Uttar Pradesh, similarly there is this ex-military personnel day where only a handful people go. There might be hundreds of them complaining but actually hardly anybody would go. We do ensure that genuine complaints are taken care of.

There are issues of property and civil matters that take their own time, those issues don’t get sorted out in one day.

Secretary CPV & OIA, Shri Dnyaneshwar Mulay: I think the kind of grievance redressal mechanisms that MEA has currently put in place, in my view it is unprecedented. We have received more than 40,000 grievances in the last year plus time and I am glad to say that more than 70 percent of them have been effectively addressed and resolved. This is in addition to all the emails that we receive about international marriages, about properties, about disputes of various kinds, encroachments on the properties. So there is, I can say with great confidence, effective and robust mechanism that we have.

Similarly, the four or five segments that we have whether it is workers in the gulf, whether it is the Indian students who are staying overseas, whether it is the PIOs, whether it is the NRI segment, for each of these we have devised a number of specific schemes/arrangements which have taken care of their aspirations as well as, what I would say, routine kind of complaints.

Question Contd.: Is there a separate division for this?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:Yes, OIA-2 division takes care of that. As Secretary Mulay told that a lot of complaints are received daily and it is not like that that when the diaspora members come of PBD then only they bring their complaints, a lot of complaints are filed daily and they are resolved also. I believe that almost 95% of the complaints are resolved and what you were saying that many people say about complaints not being resolved, they are just 5% of them.

Question: Could you tell us how many people are going to get this Pravasi Samman award and a little bit about how the selection is done?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:There are 30 awardees every year and there is a very detailed procedure that exists for it. The committee which selects is headed by the Vice President of India and they have a jury of eminent people. These names come from our missions and from various other organizations from abroad, they are all scrutinized, their antecedents are checked, their work is checked. It takes almost 2 to 3 months before the jury finally takes a decision on selecting these 30 people.

Secretary CPV & OIA, Shri Dnyaneshwar Mulay: If I can add one sentence, we do take into consideration the geographical distribution worldwide of our diaspora and as far as possible proportionate representation. The second is the origin of the person of Indian origin in India, so a kind of broad distribution among the states of India. Also the third one is the professions, it should not be people only coming from one profession. So there are a number of these criteria and our External Affairs Minister is the Deputy Head of this jury committee. Also I must say that the entire process, how it is conducted is also notified by government of India through a gazette notification to maintain the transparency.

Question from Third Eye Word News:
As you told that the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas was started during the tenure of Atal Ji. What are the benefits that have accrued to us and in which areas it has been most beneficial from all the Pravasi Diwas that we have held? And another small question, do you plan to take along the media persons from Delhi?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh: See, I have already explained what we have gained from Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. Earlier there was no way to connect to the Indian diaspora worldwide, and to channelize them for their effective participation in any work in our country. Earlier only very few people would associate with us.

With the start of Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, these things have been centralized in a very good manner. See, this is our third PBD, first we did in 2015, then in 2017 and now this is the third one. It makes us very happy to see so many people attend to connect with us. We are receiving very good participation from the diaspora community in all the flagship programs of our Prime Minister.

So, it actually is very beneficial to us, further the small question that you had, media personnel reach everywhere. Till now 460 media persons have registered, if you have not registered yourself till now, I suggest you get yourself registered.

Question from Matrubhoomi TV: There used to be an exclusive gulf session which has been happening from the first Pravasi itself but it has been discontinued after NDA came into power. The problem is that in this session all the Chief Ministers from Southern states used to come to this and they used to discuss the problem of workers there, a little bit different from the diaspora that comes from other countries. Is there any plan to start it once again?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:
See 2015 and before that, the format was different and therefore to cater for the people in the GCC countries we used to have a separate session so that we could understand their problems.

The way we have out our redressal mechanism in place, most of things are getting addressed without holding a session. There are numerous organization in the Gulf each espousing the cause of our Pravasis out there. In some for or the other those inputs come to us. In the present system what is happening is that we are concentrating more on something which is tangible by holding in the intervening year sessions which will contribute towards various issues that come up and therefore this old method of, you know, OK we will have one for South East Asia, another for another area, because now the redressal mechanism is already there. We don’t have a problem in resolving issues at all.

Earlier it used to be, OK, every year there will be a Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas so problems will come at that time then we will look at it. So that approach has been left out and we find that this is a much more beneficial approach. I do agree that when one is still stuck in the old mode then they will say that, oh yes, we should have a session of our own. It is not required. The number of visits that you have of people going from India and I am talking just about Central government, I am talking about State governments. Everybody sends their problems to us.

Last one if you see was an issue which was being projected to us on bringing back mortal remains. We held a session with Air India and we have now put down a flat rate which I tweeted also, so that there is no doubt left because some of the people used to say, oh there is an old man, the weight is less, weight was never a criteria, weight was a criteria for cargo, only for planning purposes of the aircraft but not for payments.

Now we have specified that there is a flat rate and this flat rate is taking the freight charges and 50% discount on that. Because when you bring human remain then actually you have to bring that cargo hold almost empty, you cannot keep human remains along with a cargo. So actual expenditure incurred by an airline is much more than what this token that is charged and in this also we have a system where the embassy takes into account on ‘means tested’ that whether a person should pay or not pay.

So all those issues are taken care but I know in Gulf a lot of organizations feel that they have been deprived of an opportunity of coming separately and only discussing Gulf.

Question: Can you elaborate a more about the Varanasi Aatithya, how many NRIs have opted for it and how did they do it, and you also said that the expenses will be borne by the locals?

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh: This is ongoing. Regarding expenses, it actually means that they will not charge them for the room in which they will be boarding the diaspora members, neither will they charge for the breakfast. Lunch and dinner is arranged at the site of the session but if you don’t want that then the hosts will also take care of that.

It is like a member of the family, if I can put it that way without elaborating much because that will tell you. It is like a guest of the family.

So you will be the guest of that family and you know that "Guest is god” they will take care of you.

Secretary CPV & OIA, Shri Dnyaneshwar Mulay: Just to explain further on what the hon’ble MoS said, the state government is fully in picture. They are our partners there and it is they who have, after visiting these homes, identified an x number and already we have 69 PBSA awardees this year, they will be staying in the ‘Kaashi ka Aatithya.’

Besides that we also have 200 ‘Know India Program’ participants coming from abroad, members of youth from all over the world, from PIO community, they will also be staying. Then there is open participation which we have conveyed through our website to all the delegates who are coming. The host of these guests will also be given gratis pass to all the events in the PBD so they have uninterrupted access to the venue and they are supposed to pick them up every day and drop them at the venue. So this is broadly the arrangement which has been worked in great detail. Our people, including from MEA have gone there and seen what kind of houses these are where they are going be housed so that there is no inconvenience or any scope for misunderstanding.

Minister of State for External Affairs, General V K Singh:
All these houses have been checked by the UP Government administration along with their occupants so that people will be comfortable.

The gratis pass which we are giving them, there is a reason behind that. When the host will come to drop the diaspora guests no one should stop them. Maybe the participant decides that instead of attending the session they want to go for shopping, so how does he go, they will tie-up with their host and the host will take them for shopping.

So it has been made in a way that a person feels that he is actually a guest of that house.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: This concludes the special briefing on Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas on Varanasi. Thank you sir for doing this briefing for media, thank Secretary and thank you Jt. Secretary. Thank you all for joining.

Thank you very much.

Disclaimer: Media Briefing was held in Hindi. This is the translated version.


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