January 01, 2014

Indians in US missions grossly underpaid

New Delhi, Dec 30, 2013, (PTI):

Indian employees of the US Embassy and consulates in India are being grossly underpaid in camparison to their American counterparts working in these missions, according to information made available to the government.

Even as the External Affairs Ministry is awaiting details of Indian staff employed by the American diplomatic missions, some such current and former employees have come forward with details of their emoluments which are way below the wages being paid to American staff in similar positions.

In fact, in the case of some semi-skilled Indian staff, the wages may be below those prescribed under India's Minimum Wages Act.

Information available to the government shows that an Indian Visa Officer gets a salary of around Rs 17,000 per month as against about Rs 1.10 Lakh for an American holding similar position.

One security guard gets Rs eight thousand per month for an eight-hour duty daily, which is way below the Act.

The government had set a deadline of December 23 for the US Embassy to furnish details of Indian staff employed along with the salaries in each case. It is understood that the US Embassy has cited Christmas and New Year holidays as the reason for the delay.

India's demand was made in the wake of the arrest and strip-search of its Deputy Consul General in New York Devyani Khobragade on December 12 on the charges of underpaying her maid.

Meanwhile, the special group, set up by the Foreign Secretary, met here for the first time to scrutinise the available information regarding the wages being paid to their Indian staff amid indications that these may be violative of the laws. The Group will now hold regular meetings.

The government's reaction to set up the special group, comprising inter-divisional experts, including from legal, financial and human resources departments of MEA, to assess and monitor the inputs sought by the governments came after the arrest of Khobragade, the 39-year-old 1999-batch IFS officer.

The diplomat's arrest and subsequent treatment had sparked an outrage in India which demanded an apology and dropping of all charges against her.

With India deciding to enforce strict reciprocity about the privileges enjoyed by American diplomats posted in the country, the government has withdrawn extra privileges enjoyed by American Ambassador Nancy Powell and other diplomats such as special access at Indian airports.

There are also reports that the commercial facilities run by American Community Support Association (ACSA), including a beauty salon and other full-scale commercial facilities hosted by the US Embassy within its compound which include the sale and service establishment, were open not only to US diplomats from third countries but to non-diplomatic personnel as well.

"This is a misuse of diplomatic privilege that is not extended by the US to others in their country," sources said.

There is a view in the government that the US diplomats at the Embassy in New Delhi and in their consulates in other cities in India have always enjoyed a high degree of non-reciprocal privileges and facilitation.

These include tax-free treatment of their nationals working in the American Embassy School in New Delhi, extra privileges and immunities for their consulate officials at their consulates in Calcutta, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, approvals for extra staffing, including the deputation of short-term 'extra staff' for deployment in the Embassy which are usually extended repeatedly and become regular one to two year postings effectively.

US to press ahead with Devyani’s prosecution

Wednesday, 01 January 2014 | S Rajagopalan | Washington

In a setback to expectations of a gradual resolution of the diplomatic spat over prosecution of Devyani Khobragade, the US authorities have let it be known that they would press ahead with her indictment for alleged visa fraud in a New York court before the January 13 deadline.

US sources in New York, cited by the PTI, rejected India’s demands for apology and withdrawal of the case. The US side also brushed aside the contention of Khobragade’s attorney that enforcement officials had “goofed up” on details of wages to be paid to the diplomat’s maid, Sangeeta Richards.

In the midst of the renewed negative turn the case was taking from the standpoint of India-US relations, US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell expressed “regret” over the “circumstances” of Khobragade’s arrest.

“I join Secretary Kerry in expressing our regret for the circumstances of the consular officer’s arrest, but we believe that we can look forward to continuing to expand our bilateral relations,” Powell said in a New Year message.
The State Department, too, said it does not want the Khobragade episode to affect bilateral ties. “We don’t want this to negatively impact our relationship, that we work on a broad range of issues together, our bilateral relationship is too important,” Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters.

But, curiously enough, the State Department was still sitting tight on according its approval to India’s transfer of Khobragade from the New York consulate to India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations – a move that would assure her of full diplomatic immunity even as the Office of US Attorney Preet Bharara pushes ahead with her indictment.
It’s about 10 days since the United Nations accredited Khobragade following India’s notification and sent the documents over to the State Department for the requisite host government approval. As of Monday, the department had not yet given its clearance to it.

Responding to a question on this matter, Harf said: “We have received the paperwork from the United Nations. It is currently under review, and I don’t have anything further for you on that except that we’re taking a look at it, and when we have something more, we’re happy to share it.”

Asked about Indian Government’s contention last week that Khobragade anyway had full diplomatic immunity with effect from August 23, 2013 by virtue of being designated as an Adviser to India’s UN mission, Harf said: “Our folks are taking a look at that issue. Still looking into it, don’t have any update on that.”

When confronted with reports from India that the US Embassy was paying Indian staffers much less than American minimum wage provisions, Harf took the stand that the US’s “standard practice” was to “pay folks that work for us in countries around the world in conjunction with local law, with local practice”.

In New York, US sources were quoted by PTI as saying that there was no question of tendering an apology to India over the Khobragade arrest, asserting that the American side was proceeding by the book without any nefarious motive. Notwithstanding the Indian contention, the US sources asserted that Khobragade did not enjoy full diplomatic immunity.
They, however, conceded that if Khobragade gained full immunity in the wake of her transfer to India’s UN mission, the US could not proceed with the case and bring her to court for the period of immunity. The case will not be dismissed, but will remain in a state of suspension during that period

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