New Delhi: India has decided to merge the two visa facilitation cards that are issued to people of Indian origin and register non-resident Indians in the electoral rolls to let them exercise their franchise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday.
"We recently reviewed the Overseas Citizenship of India Card and Person of Indian Origin Card. We have decided to merge them into one," the prime minister told the 9th edition of India's annual convention to connect with its 25-million-strong diaspora in 130 nations.
He also said that the necessary amendments had been made to extend voting rights to non-resident Indians. "New legal provision will give them legitimate right to participate in Indian electoral process," the prime minister said.
"I am sure they will bring a breath of fresh air to Indian polity."
The prime minister was addressing some 1,500 delegates from 51 countries, members of the diplomatic core, ministers, chief ministers and bureaucrats, at what is called the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. New Zealand Governor-General Anand Satyanand was the chief guest.
Others who spoke at the inaugural event included Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Development of North Eastern Region B.K. Handique and Overseas Indian Affairs Secretary A. Didar Singh.
The prime minister said the past year was a busy year for India, with the leaders of all nations that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council visiting New Delhi. "We will play a commensurate role in international forums."
He said during his visits to various countries, he was particularly pleased when the leaders and community leaders lauded the role played by the Indian community in their land of domicile.
The prime minister also unveiled the foundation stone for the Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra here and hoped it will fulfil its envisaged role of becoming a focal point for engagement between the Indian diaspora and India.
Ravi told the delegates that India had already amended the Representation of People Act to address the long-standing demand of non-resident citizens to enable them to exercise their franchise.
"I am happy to say non-resident Indians will be able to enroll themselves for voting."
Sir Satyanand said people of Indian origin who migrated to distant lands thousands of miles away over the past few centuries have never forgotten their roots. "To this day, they remain proud of their Indian heritage."
He said till 1976 the strength of the Indian diaspora in New Zealand numbered 6,300. But today, their numbers had swelled to over 100,000 people, to make them second largest Asian ethnic group in the South Pacific nation.
"The 25 million diaspora, the second largest expatriate community in the world, can give a powerful support to India in its ongoing path towards development. We should give our continued support to this diaspora."
Satyanand also hoped that the free trade agreement being negotiated between the two countries will fructify soon, as it had the potential to enhance bilateral economic engagement to a new level.