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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Explained: What is the role and relevance of NRI Sabha?

There are around 50-55 lakh NRIs settled abroad mainly in USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Middle East countries, but only members of the NRI Sabha can vote in the election.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Published: February 22, 2020 5:10:30 pm
nri sabha punjab Elections to the post of Punjab NRI Sabha president are being held after a gap of five years.

After a gap of five years, the elections for the post of president of the NRI Sabha Punjab are being conducted by the state government on March 7. The elections, for which four candidates are in fray, have been due since March 2017. The Indian Express explains the relevance of the Sabha in Punjab.

What is the number of registered members of the NRI Sabha Punjab?

The Sabha has around 23,000 members across the globe. Any NRI can become a lifetime member by paying a one-time fee of Rs 10,500. Even if an NRI returns to India after staying in any country for long, he can become its member within 5 years of his/ her return.

The registration of the NRI members was started after the body’s registration under the Societies Act in 1998. It is an NGO controlled by the Punjab government. Due to the delay in elections, its membership has been stalled over the past couple of years. These members have the right to contest as well as participate in the elections.

There are around 50-55 lakh NRIs settled abroad mainly in USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Middle East countries, but only members of the Sabha can vote in the election by being present physically along with their IDs issued by NRI Sabha Punjab/NRI Sabha District Unit as proof of their identity. Proxy voting was allowed before 2012.

Why were elections delayed?

Due to the indifferent attitude of both Akali and Congress governments, the NRI Sabha election was postponed for three years as first there were Vidhan Sabha elections in 2017 and then Lok Sabha in 2019.

How does the government exercise control on it?

The body was formed with the initiative of the then Commissioner, Jalandhar Division, B K Shrivastva. The elections of Sabha are conducted on the directions of Punjab government. Punjab Chief Minister is its chief patron. Commissioner Jalandhar Division or Commissioner NRI Affairs can be appointed its chairman, while the Deputy Commissioners are the chairmen of the district units. There are total 12 district units of NRI Sabha in Punjab including four in Doaba region – Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Nawanshahr – which is the NRI belt of Punjab, Three units are in Majha region including at Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran and five in Malwa at Ludhiana, Moga, Mohali, Patiala, and Ropar. There are also NRI police stations and NRIs courts set by the government.

In Jalandhar, Sabha has its NRI Sabha Bhawan where 16-member staff, including executive director (currently government officer), superintendent, law officer, media officer, and clerical staff and class four are working and NRI Sabha has been bearing the cost of its staff including their salaries from its fix deposit of the membership fee and some contributions given by the NRI members’ voluntarily.

What is the authority of the elected president of NRI Sabha?

There is no legal authority with the NRI Sabha and its office-bearers, but they can always push the government departments to speed up the work related to the NRIs’ complaints. Also he/she can work for the welfare of the NRIs by taking up various issues, which they face in other countries, by discussing them with the ambassadors of those countries in India. President can appoint the members to various committees of Sabha only after the approval of the chairman.

What is the main challenge before it?

Due to delay in getting justice, NRIs get frustrated due to which the new generations of NRIs are not much interested in becoming its members “The next generation of NRIs, who have been settled abroad for decades, are not at all interested in keeping their properties back in Punjab due to the same being grabbed by their relatives and land mafia and cases being pending in courts or at police level,” said a senior official in NRI Sabha Punjab, adding that government needs to make it a relevant entity by meeting expectations of NRIs, who are used to Western systems.

What are the other demands of the existing members?

A large number of NRI Sabha members had expressed that the tenure of the president should be around 4 to 5 years instead of two years. They also want that NRI courts should deal NRIs cases only.

Besides, they also demand permission for purchasing agricultural land in Punjab. NRIs can purchase a house or any commercial property here but not agricultural land as it is banned under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). “We had taken up this matter with both Punjab and Centre government, but Punjab government could not pursue it with the Centre properly,” said an NRI Sabha official, adding that it also discourages NRIs to invest their money in other developmental projects.

How is the Sabha still relevant despite its dependence on government?

NRIs said that it is quite relevant and helps NRIs with their property, fraud and matrimonial disputes. It is a common platform where NRI Sabha can help any NRI coming with any difficulty by taking up their cases with government, where various departments are involved. The Sabha takes up the matter with NRI DIG appointed by the Punjab government, respective NRI Police stations, etc…The Sabha also tries to sort out the matter in an amicable manner with the help of Punjab government officials. “We take up the applications of NRIs with the government immediately when we receive, but the delays are taking place at government level despite our repeated follow-up,” said a member of NRI Sabha.

Even non-members can file a complaint. US-based North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) said that it can be made a great platform for Punjabi diaspora seeking speedy redressal of complaints.

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