Facilitation centre for overseas Indians gaining popularity

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS

New Delhi : A facilitation centre for non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin wanting to invest in India is becoming more popular by the day, and is considering expansion of its services, as the government gets ready to host this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas next week.

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The ten-month-old Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) – www.oifc.in – had been set up to be a one-stop shop for NRIs and PIOs to post their queries and get free advice on investment opportunities in the booming Indian economy as well as on taxation and real estate regulations.

Mooted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas last year as a way to attract NRI capital, this hand holding service is a public-private partnership between the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and Confederation of Indian Industry.

The number of queries has slowly picked up over the months, with October, November and December witnessing a sharp increase in the demand for their services. “On an average, we are now getting 150 queries every month,” said Anjali Taneja of OIFC.

While the majority of the users have been North American, mainly from United States, there has also been a sizeable proportion from the Gulf.

“The main area for inquiry from Gulf is visa-related, which we refer to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs,” said Taneja.

So far, OIFC has managed to keep the response time within a relatively short period of 24 hours to a couple of days for more complicated legal answers. “We have answered mostly online, but there have been some queries over the phone, and we have also started face-to-face interactions.”

Now with the service becoming increasingly popular, they have found that a major trend has been of business to business (B2B) nature, which sometimes goes beyond the scope of the present resources. “We get questions on how to set up joint ventures. Sometimes, they are looking for distributors in India for their products,” Taneja said.

Currently, OIFC had got three knowledge partners in three separate areas of investment, real estate and taxation services. “Once we receive a query, we send it to our partner for answers who provide the expert comments,” said CII director Subha Rajan, who is also OIFC’s chief executive officer.

The questions dealt with by OIFC personnel have ranged from how to obtain a PAN (permanent account number) card to the procedures to construct and operate a hospital.

However, as the number and the complexity of the inquiries have increased, the OIFC may now have to go beyond knowledge partners to service associates.

“It is beyond us right now to check out the credibility of a firm or the person behind it. Then, how do we also recommend a correct developer on real estate matters,” asked an OIFC official, adding that a third party service partner could plug in these information holes.

According to Rajan, the decision to go for third party service partners will have to be taken by OIFC’s governing council which is supposed to hold its third meeting soon. She added that it would also decide whether additional services would be paid ones, in contrast to the current free consultancy provided by OIFC.