Leaders refuse to meet US Congress delegation

Reacting to the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General in New York, India on Tuesday initiated a series of steps to strip US diplomats and their families of several privileges.

Sources indicated that the measures included withdrawal of special access airport passes as well as duty exemptions that allowed American diplomats stationed in India to import several items duty-free or after paying a nominal duty.

The measures were announced by the Government to show that it will not take the treatment meted out to the diplomat lightly. Last Thursday, as she was dropping her daughter to school, Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, was arrested and handcuffed on charges of visa fraud and allegedly underpaying an Indian housekeeper. She was released on a $250,000 bond a few hours later after pleading not guilty.

Politicians, cutting across party lines, condemned the treatment meted out to Khobragade. To demonstrate India’s displeasure, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and Congress VP Rahul Gandhi declined to meet a visiting US Congress delegation.

Retaliatory moves

While the Delhi Police started removing security barricades around the US Embassy in the Capital, the government sought details about US diplomats’ spouses working in the country to see if there were any visa norm violations and whether they were paying their taxes. Police pickets around the US Embassy will, however, remain in place.

Withdrawal of the special access airport passes will end the unfettered access US diplomats enjoy at Indian airports.

According to sources, every Embassy, High Commission or consulate in India is given a stipulated number of photo-less airport access passes. These passes allow diplomats access to check-in counters at airports around the country while departing and access till the luggage belt while receiving arriving diplomats.

While indicating that the steps being taken by the Indian Government are on a reciprocal basis, Government officials declined to say by when US diplomats would have to surrender their IDs or give salary details to authorities.

ashwini.phadnis@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 17, 2013)
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