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Presidential Address of Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, New York 2007

New York
September 23, 2007

Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Ambassador Ronen Sen, Mr. Nirmal Singh, Mr. Sunil Mittal, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am happy to be here this morning at the very first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas being held outside India. It is in the fitness of things that the first Overseas PBD should be in New York and at a time when India has just turned 60.

The United States and Canada are today home to the largest Indian population in the world. The Caribbean States constitute the largest number of PIOs. Indo-Americans now number close to 1.9 million and Indo-Canadians nearly 1 million. PBD New York is therefore meant for the Overseas Indian Community in North America and Caribbean States.

The saga of the Overseas Indian Community in the United States began as far back as 1900. In Canada too, Indian emigrants can be traced back to the same period. In the West Indies, the story is different. Indians arrived as indentured labourers in the middle of 19th century and their grand children carrying the tradition and culture of our great country. We have come a long way since then.

The Indian Diaspora is today estimated at about 30 million and spread across 130 countries. The story of the great Indian Diaspora is truly the story of ordinary people with extraordinary courage and enterprise. It is a story of struggle and success.

In the words of Vishwamitra Ganga Aashutosh, the renowned poet from Mauritius:

“No gold did they find,
Underneath any stone
They touched and turned,
Every stone they touched,
Into solid gold they turned.”

Overseas Indians have transformed the economies of the countries that they chose to go to. And today, they comprise one of the largest, most diverse, best educated communities wherever they reside.

The Indian-Americans too have come of age. Consider these facts:

· The median income of the Indian-American family is over $ 62000, which is far above the median income of all American families.
· There are over 200,000 Indian-American millionaires.
· 18 percent of the Silicon Valley start up companies is owned by Indo-Americans.
· 60 percent above 25 years have a college degree.
· 45 percent in the work force are employed as professionals.
· There are 42000 Indian-American Physicians.

We salute the enterprise and success of the Indian-American Community.

I was delighted to hear that ‘Dilbert’, the popular comic strip introduced a bright young IIT alumnus named Ashok and more recently Raj Patel, the Indian-American teenager made a grand entry in Archie Comics. You have captured the popular imagination of America.

India at 60 has also come of age. It is today the fastest growing free market democracy. Consider these facts:

· A consistent economic growth rte in excess of 9 per cent.
· Industrial growth attaining double digits in the last few years.
· Foreign Exchange Reserves in excess of $ 220 billion.
· Merchandize Exports of over $ 125 billion.
· IT exports in excess of $ 40 billion.
· Foreign Direct Investment of nearly $ 20 billion last year.
These numbers are truly impressive by any standard. India’s growth story has, indeed, captured the global mind space.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is an ideal time for us to forge strong partnerships between India and its Diaspora. This is important because in an increasingly globalizing world, overseas communities can and should play an important role.

The global economy today is so integrated that what happens in one part of the world does affect a completely different part of the world. Much more than one might imagine. The recent interest rate cut in the US for example resulted in India’s stock market index crossing the 16000 mark.

We, therefore, need to take a medium to long-term perspective of sustainable and strategic engagement between India and its Diaspora.

Overseas Indians worldwide who are our brand ambassadors produce an economic output of about $ 400 billion. The Indian Diaspora of 30 million is estimated to generate an annual income equal to about 30 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product.

Yet, India’s growth story so far has been driven primarily by the energy and enterprise of domestic companies. The role of the Indian Diaspora in India’s economic growth has been much less than what it is capable of.

What might be the ways in which we can strengthen our economic engagement?

India is already the highest recipient of remittances from overseas Indians over $ 23 billion last year. What is less known though is the fact that nearly half of these remittances come from just 5 million overseas Indians in the Gulf. Clearly, this is a potential area for all of you to consider.

If you look at Diaspora investments in India, the success is even lower. The cumulative Foreign Direct Investment by NRIs is a modest $ 8 billion constituting lower than 5 percent of the total Foreign Direct Investment in India.

The bulk of the Diaspora money is in portfolio investments of a short-term nature and the time horizon a mere 3 years. The Indo-American perspective on investing in India should now transform to converge with the dominant mode of investing that other foreigners have adopted. That is to invest on a longer-term basis and in the new investment opportunities arising.

Given the profile of the Indian-American Community, your investment is far short of your potential. Let me hasten to add that I use the term ‘investment’ in its broadest sense.

I am aware that the vast majority of you are professionals. Inward investment is not the only way in which you can contribute to our country’s progress. I invite you to contribute in terms of knowledge and skills, ideas, individual initiatives and community action.

It is now time, that the reservoir of knowledge, skills, resources and the enterprise of the Overseas Indian Community is drawn upon as partners in progress. This Conference will aim to build on such partnership.

The newly established Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre which is a not for profit trust promoted by my Ministry in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry will help you to invest in and benefit from India. It will serve as your ‘one stop shop’.

Before I conclude, let me extend to you an invitation to the 6th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which will be held, from 7th to 9th January 2008 at New Delhi. The PBD will provide you a global platform to bond with India.

With your cooperation we will build a strong partnership between India and the Indian-American community.

I wish you the best.

Thank you.