NRIs don’t invest as much as they remit, says Montek Singh

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New Delhi: The three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas ended here on January 9, but not before the participants were sharply reminded of their poor record in investing in  the country of their origin: Remittances from overseas Indians have grown over the years, but their share in foreign direct investment (FDI) remains poor, a little over 1 percent of the total FDI.

 

There was a collective gasp  in Vigyan Bhavan on  January 9, when the normally soft-spoken and mild Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commi-ssion, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, told his audiences, “Get rid of the notion that we are after  money.”

 

Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs Vyalar Ravi confirmed while remittances from NRIs were double that  of the FDI received last year, their share in the investment in the country was  just 1.3 percent. “Please do not get angry with me, said the Minister apologetically as he rattled off figures  to suggest that at the end  of the last fiscal year in  March, 2010, India had received Rs. 123,377 crore worth of foreign  investment, out of which  the share of investment made by NRIs was approximately Rs. 1,250 crore.

 

The annual remittances – the money NRIs send to families back home – were Rs. 2,50,000 crore in the year 2009-10, according to the World Bank Factbook-2011 on migration and remittances. This is said to be the highest inflow into any country and as much as a quarter of this sum is sent from the Middle East.

 

A woman banker from the UAE triggered the assault when she suggested, tactlessly, that India would not need NRI investment if only it could stop money laundering. That provoked Ahluwalia into saying that while money laundering was a global phenomenon, 95 percent of investment in India was by domestic investors. “Frankly, if you think  you would get better returns elsewhere, I would advise you to invest there.” “Those who decide             to invest in India,” he quipped, “would have no reason to be unhappy about   their decision 15 to 20 years from now.

 

The NRIs did point out the urgency to change archaic laws to reassure investors of the safety and security of  their investment. Besides, they wanted their property here to be protected from land grabbers. They also raised issues like double taxation for those with business interests in the Gulf, and voting rights for NRIs Vyalar Ravi, however, clarified that dual citizenship was only a remote possibility and that the government was more keen to introduce a single Overseas Citizen India card.

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