Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday announced the merging of the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and the People of Indian Origin (PIO) cards to facilitate visa-free travel to India, rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities in the country.
“We have recently reviewed the functioning of these schemes and have decided to merge the OCI and PIO cards into a single facility. We hope to iron out some of the problems that have arisen in the implementation of these schemes,'' the Prime Minister observed while inaugurating the Ninth Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas.
The Prime Minister also announced the extension of the Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions from the present 42.
Dr. Singh said the government would soon give effect to a law that allowed Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to register themselves as voters. “I have no doubt that their participation [in the elections] will be welcomed by the constituencies in which you do participate. They will bring a breath of global fresh air to our politics, I sincerely hope,'' he said.
On the welfare of workers emigrating from India, the Prime Minister pointed out that besides the signing of Social Security Agreements with 12 countries and finalisation of Labour Mobility Partnerships with two others, the government was negotiating a generic arrangement with the European Union. In this respect, he commended the initiative taken by Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi.
While welcoming the presence of New Zealand Governor General Anand Satyanand as the Chief Guest of this year's PBD, the Prime Minister regretted the passing away of management guru and member of the Global Advisory Council of Overseas Indians Prof. C.K. Prahalad.
With the North Eastern States of India being the partner states for the PBD, the Prime Minister encouraged the diaspora to join hands with local and national efforts to accelerate the pace of development of this region.
Dr. Singh assured the gathering that the country's growth was based on sound macro economic fundamentals. The polity too was stable though the government was making systemic changes to ensure more transparent procedures.
In the last two quarters, the growth rate had been 8.9 per cent and the government expected it to be around 8.5 per cent for the entire year. The rate was expected to climb to over nine per cent from next year onwards. This was buttressed by a sturdy and vibrant democratic system with inbuilt mechanisms for redressal and course correction. “We need to build consensus on far-reaching changes that may be required in the processes of governance and in our legal or electoral systems. We are determined to work sincerely towards this end,'' he said.
The Prime Minister termed the country's soft power an increasingly important element in its expanding global footprint. In this respect he wanted the overseas Indian community to support and patronise new cultural centres to be opened in the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, France and Australia.