Modi govt’s ‘drastic’ new OCI rules stun diaspora

RITU JHA

Those who hold Overseas Citizen of India or Person of Indian Origin cards will now be considered “foreign nationals” in India, according to the Narendra Modi government’s new rules governing the rights and privileges of diaspora Indians.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification on March 4, which includes new and sweeping restrictions on what OCI or PIO card holders can — and cannot — do in India.

The notification says: “…the OCI cardholder shall be required to obtain a special permission or a Special Permit, as the case may be, from the competent authority or the

Foreigners Regional Registration Officer or the Indian Mission concerned, namely:-

(i) to undertake research;

(ii) to undertake any Missionary or Tabligh or Mountaineering or Journalistic activities;

(iii) to undertake internship in any foreign Diplomatic Missions or foreign Government organisations in India or to take up employment in any foreign Diplomatic Missions in India;

(iv) to visit any place which falls within the Protected or Restricted or prohibited areas as notified by the Central Government or competent authority.”

The new rules have come as a shock for many in the Indian-American community that is, according to at least one study and ample anecdotal evidence, largely in favour of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

Thomas Abraham, chairman of GOPIO International, a major Indian diaspora organization in the US, told indica News: “This is a very drastic move by the government. Once a person is treated as foreign national, major OCI benefits are gone.”

Some of the new clauses will hurt OCI cardholders doing business India, he said.

So far, they were treated on par with resident Indians. Once they are termed as foreign nationals, they have to take permission for many things including conducting research in a company owned by an OCI cardholder.”

Abraham said he had been receiving calls from OCI cardholders doing business in India.

Business people are very much concerned about this new rules,” he underlined.

GOPIO is studying these new clauses and getting feedback from our members. GOPIO will send a response letter to the government of India soon,” he said.

One of the Indian Americans who have seen their business hit directly by the new rules is Dr Muhammed Majeed, founder of Sabinsa Corporation in New Jersey. Sabinsa, founded in 1988, is a manufacturer and supplier of herbal extracts, cosmeceuticals, minerals and specialty fine chemicals. In 1991, Majeed started Sami Sabinsa Labs in Bangalore.

He has over 1,150 employees including scientists who do research work for him in Ayurveda-related products.

Majeed, who said he was one of the sponsors of the event of Indian Prime Minister Modi at Madison Square Garden in New York, sounded bitter about the new rules.

Indians come back to India, I will give you a dream of India [is what Modi said]. But my dream is not to be treated as second class citizen in my own country,” Majeed said.

He said that this new policy was making him think of moving his business out of India.

He said he offers “value added products and cultivated products that were exempted from government permit, and now they say none of them are exempted.

If you are touching any biodiversity products you pay,” he said.

This rule is for only foreign nationals. And they found one loophole in my case that I have OCI card and I am a foreign citizen,” Majeed told indica News.

The biological diversity act is not new. Majeed said: “Yes, but there were other sections and in that value-added products were exempted.

We offer Value added products,” he explained. “And we do research on natural products— the curcumin for example you buy, and many Ayurveda products and natural products. It comes under natural and it was exempted.”

Now the National Biodiversity Authority is saying we will tell you what research you do. The moment you apply to biodiversity board to do research, I fear that information could be shared with everybody. And also it takes months to get the permit. And they want money for each permit from foreign nationals,” he said.

It seems in 2014-15 they framed the rules and last year they started implementing and made it official on March 4. I learned about it after receiving a court notice last September,” Masjeed said.

This will shut down my entire business and have to move to other country,” he said.

No one in the world says you need a permission to do a research! Only India is asking to take permission to do research and we (India) are nowhere in research if compared with advanced countries. On top of that you are asking to take permission for research on each product!”

He alleged the government says there is single-window clearance and no hassle and permit to run a business in no time, but it is not true.

We have 29 states in India and each state has a biodiversity board and it’s not uniform. If you are an Indian company you don’t need permission but foreign nationals need a permit and it would be biggest hurdle for us,” he said.

My company is 25 years old in India. I was the lone player when I started,” he rued. “Now, to come to India to do business as an OCI is a sin for which they will punish you.”

An Indian-American community leader, Prem Bhandari, told indica News: “It’s too early to understand [the new rules] and people in the US are not aware of the change. We have to understand why they [the Indian government] did that.”

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