Sixth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to start Tuesday


New Delhi : The sixth annual jamboree of the global Indian family kicks off here Tuesday with representatives of an estimated 25 million diaspora spread across the world brainstorming with officials and leaders of business and society to look for ways to contribute to the Indian growth story.

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The idea of an annual conclave, to be called the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), was first recommended by the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora in 2002. The following year, the first PBD was held from Jan 9-11, inaugurated by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to commemorate the anniversary of the return of the most well known non-resident Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, to India to lead the freedom movement.

Over the years, the PBD has become the platform for the Indian government to announce initiatives to woo overseas Indians, who as they grew in profile and stature in the countries in which they settled, also looked for ways to ‘give back’ to their native country.

Among the initiatives announced by the Indian government so far, the most significant has been the Overseas Citizens of India card – which allows for visa-free travel to India as well as right to buy certain kinds of property.

Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the setting up of a PIO (people of Indian origin) university, an Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) and Council for Overseas Employment Opportunities.

The OIFC was set up in August 2007 and is now getting an increasing number of queries on investment, tax and real-estate procedures, while the union cabinet has to approve the name of an operator, recommended by a government committee – to start and run the PIO university.

PBD has now tried to make the conference more focused by compressing the event to just two days – from a three-day event – to make it less of a talking shop and more a business-like forum.

Over 1,000 people from about 45 countries have registered to attend the event. Like last year, the largest delegation is from Malaysia, followed by the US and Mauritius.

The small Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius has a significant presence, as the Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam will be the chief guest at the conference.

The theme of the conference is ‘Engaging the Diaspora: The Way Forward’, which will be addressed through various sessions on infrastructure and development, knowledge economy, culture, health and women empowerment.

On the morning of the second day on Wednesday, Indian states will make their case for attracting NRI capital, with at least seven chief ministers making presentations on the economic initiative offered by their governments.

Later in the afternoon, there will be separate concurrent sessions on specific problems of overseas Indians residing in the Gulf, Asia-Pacific, Americas, Africa and Europe.

While Diaspora Philanthropy is the last plenary meeting of the conference, officials in the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA) officials consider it a key focus of this year’s conference.

The prime minister is expected to announce the setting up of an India Development Foundation, which will channel donations from overseas Indian to finance development projects in specific regions.

The two-day event will come to an end with President Pratibha Devisingh Patil awarding Pravasi Bharatiya Samman to 15 overseas Indians.

The previous recipients of the award include Kenyan human rights activist Pheroze Noworojee, British industrialist G.K. Noon, Newsweek magazine editor Fareed Zakaria, writer Vikram Seth, US filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan and astronaut Kalpana Chawla.