By Thomas Abraham
The retroactive enforcement of new rules for surrender of Indian passport has become a major issue of the Indian community living abroad, particularly in the USA, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Since GOPIO had launched the petition online to the Prime Minister of India on May 23, over 21,000 have already signed as of May 29. One can see the petition and current signatories at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/ip100521/petition.html. The rate of signing the petition is 200 every hour. That shows people’s anger at the new rules and the gravity of the situation.
The overseas Indian community has been supporting India related causes in America and other Western countries. This passport surrender has suddenly become a major issue with all segments of the community actively involving in the campaign to repeal or put a moratorium for the next six months. It is even becoming bigger than the community mobilization we saw for the US-India nuclear deal.
I and a few other community activists looked at this new rule, which is based on the Citizenship Act of 1955 (http://www.mha.nic.in/pdfs/ic_act55.pdf). According to Section 9 of this act, anyone voluntarily acquiring citizenship of another country ceases to be citizen of India. In Section 8, it says, if any Indian citizen, who is also a citizen of another country should renounce Indian citizenship. We found these sections from India’s Home Ministry Web site where Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 is provided. Therefore, if one’s citizenship is already terminated by Section 9, why does one have to renounce it? And that too when one is no more an Indian citizen for as many as 50 years.
In 2009, officials in the Home Ministry wrote the new rules (http://www.mha.nic.in/pdfs/Citi_Rule-2009.pdf) based on their interpretation of the Citizenship Act of 1955, however, they conveniently avoided the Section 9. Then, they set the fees, which are outrageous (see http://indiacgny.org/php/showHighLightDet.php?h_id=138&key=). A large number of our people are retirees. If anyone of them wants to travel to India, each are has to pay as much as $175 to get permission in the name of Surrender Certificate fee plus penalty fee for any services ($175 per service) from the Indian missions. If a family of four travels to India, the additional fee would be as much $2000.
The new rules are unfair to overseas Indians who have been sincerely helping India. The community feels that the new rule is just to harass PIOs and a way to extract more money from them. If the government of India wants the old passports, NRIs and PIOs will be happy to give them and there should not be any fee in taking away the passport or it should be a nominal fee of $25. That is what has been charged by the Indian missions in New Zealand till last fortnight. Generally, every government cancels the passport and gives it back to people for them to keep it as a memento or as record of their travel. What would the government of India do over several millions of old passports? Where are they going to store them and for what purpose?
The overseas Indian community is very much with India in all its security concerns and always supports India in its security. I agree with the Indian missions that some in our community in the past had misused Indian passport to visit India after they received the foreign country passports. However, after 26/11, the Immigration Departments in India are so strict that they check the entry stamp while the person is returning from India. After becoming an American citizen, if a person misused the Indian passport to go to India and try to use an American passport to come back, they will straight away go to jail in India since the American passport does not have an entry stamp. Therefore, that argument of naturalized citizens misusing Indian passport does not hold good anymore.
With this new rule, the government may get about $200 millions by way of fees, however, they will lose billions of dollars of what overseas Indians have been giving to India in terms of remittances, tourism dollars, telling our American friends to travel to India and invest in India, contribute to the education, health and other charitable causes. The government of India cannot and should not make a problem for overseas Indians saying that to go to their Motherland, they will have to pay a hefty fee. This is absurd and ridiculous.
In the final analysis, it will be the government of India and people of India that will be the losers, if these new rules are not changed immediately. NRIs and PIOs will also be losers since a large number of them will not visit their Motherland because of the cumbersome rules and additional hefty fees.
(Thomas Abraham is the founder president and chairman emeritus of GOPIO International E-mail: email@example.com)