Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles are from a variety of newspapers (“The Guardian”, “The Times of India” and “The Daily Mail”) and talk about the on-going and escalating diplomatic spat between the Indians and the Americans:

India cracks down on US embassy club in diplomatic row

India says US embassy must cease commercial activities benefiting non-diplomats, after Indian envoy's arrest in New York

A guard outside the US embassy in Delhi. Photograph: Money Sharma/EPA

India has ratcheted up the pressure on US diplomats in Delhi as the deadline nears for the indictment of an Indian envoy in New York charged with visa fraud and underpaying a maid.

Washington has been told that restaurants and other facilities at the social club in its Delhi embassy will have to close to non-diplomats and that inquiries into the tax affairs of US staff will be pursued aggressively.

The arrest last month of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian deputy consul general in New York, enraged Indians and has prompted the biggest crisis in relations between Delhi and Washington for many years.

Tensions rose further when the prosecutor handling the case in New York issued a hard-hitting statement accusing Delhi of turning a blind eye to exploitation of domestic workers serving its envoys overseas.

The latest move is "simply in line with a policy of strict reciprocity", a senior Indian official said.

It was announced later on Wednesday that the US energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, would no longer travel to India as planned next week.

"I can confirm that Secretary Moniz is no longer traveling to India next week," an energy department official told Reuters. "We have been in conversation with Indian counterparts about the dates, and we have agreed to hold the dialogue in the near future at a mutually convenient date."
Though John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has expressed his "regret" for Khobragade's arrest, this falls far short of the full apology that India wants.

"The exact words aren't important. But either this was a mistake or a clear indication of how little they value their relationship with India. If it was a mistake, they can say sorry and we can move on," the official said.

Delhi has demanded that all charges be withdrawn and has transferred Khobragade, 39, to its mission at the United Nations. This theoretically gives her full diplomatic immunity, but also implies a change in immigration status which has to be allowed by the US state department.

Khobragade, 39, is accused of declaring on visa documents that she would pay the nanny she brought from India the minimum wage in New York, and then making her work long hours for a fraction of the agreed rate. Freed on payment of a $250,000 bond, she is due in court on 13 January and could face a maximum sentence of 10 years if convicted.

Her lawyer is believed to have applied for the date by which the diplomat has to be charged to be pushed back to allow discussions with prosecutors.

The US embassy club is based in a vast compound located on embassy grounds in the centre of Delhi, and boasts a swimming pool, baseball pitch, stores selling imported US products and a number of restaurants. Along with the American Embassy School, it is central to the social life of families of many expatriate employees of US corporations in India.

"The use by non-diplomats is contrary to [diplomatic] conventions and we believe raises an issue of tax evasion," the Indian official said.

India had already curtailed privileges offered to US diplomats to bring them in line with the treatment of Indian envoys to the United States. Since December, the US ambassador in Delhi can be subjected to airport frisking and most consular staff have reduced levels of immunity.

Concrete security barriers were removed from a road near the embassy last month, apparently in retaliation for the loss of a parking spot for the Indian ambassador in Washington.

India is also preparing to take steps against the embassy school, which it suspects may be employing some staff in violation of visa requirements, government sources told Reuters.

Indian diplomats recently received support from one slightly unlikely quarter – their hostile neighbour Pakistan. "In the entire world, there is only one way … the Vienna convention ought to be respected in letter and spirit by everybody," Salman Bashir, the outgoing Pakistan high commissioner, said this week.

The arrest of Khobragade touches a range of sensitivities in India. Almost all middle-class households in India employ at least one, and often several, members of staff who will undertake tasks from cleaning and cooking to childcare and driving.

With few Indian diplomats paid wages that would allow them to legally employ local staff to perform such functions in postings in the west, the practice has long been for Indian workers to be flown out and paid rates that, if illegal in US and elsewhere, would be generous at home.
Preet Bharara, the prosecutor in Khobragade's case, said last month: "In fact the Indian government itself has been aware of this legal issue, and that its diplomats and consular officers were at risk of violating the law. The question then may be asked: is it for US prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims … or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?"

However, the arrest has outraged Indian diplomats who say none of their colleagues have been treated in such a way since one was handcuffed during the Cultural Revolution in China.

"We have the support of the entire Indian society on this. We are a country of a billion people with a reputation for being independent in our world view but we believe in our relationship with the US and that is why we are genuinely shocked," said the Indian official.

There have been several previous incidents involving senior Indian diplomats in the US and domestic staff brought from India. In 2011 the Indian consul general, Prabhu Dayal, was accused by his maid of forced labour and sexual harassment, charges he called "complete nonsense" and that were later dropped.

A year earlier a US judge recommended that an Indian diplomat and her husband pay a maid nearly $1.5m in compensation for being forced to work without pay and suffering "barbaric treatment" in their luxury Manhattan apartment.

The outrage in India has been fuelled by politicians' unwillingness to seem out of step with public mood with a general election only months away.

Relations between the US and India have long been rocky, though steadily improving since a nadir in the 1970s. Barack Obama received a warm welcome on his visit in 2010.

However, there remains deep suspicion of Washington in Delhi, and in India more generally, and many US officials see India as a difficult partner.


Additional booze for US diplomats to dry up

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NEW DELHI: With their recreation centres asked to down shutters, US diplomats may even find the supply of booze drying up. In another move meant to check commercial activities on US embassy premises, the government has asked US authorities to draw upon duty-free items such as alcoholic beverages and cigarettes for their own personnel and not from the quotas meant for diplomats of others missions.

All recreation centres - or commercial activities as India describes them - on US embassy premises were being run by American Community Support Association (ACSA). What seems to have upset Indian authorities is that ACSA was also drawing duty-free alcohol from quotas meant for diplomats of third countries in Delhi on the ground that these diplomats too were members of ACSA.

It is understood that ACSA was previously acquiring duty-free items on behalf of about 40 missions on grounds that the membership of ACSA was drawn from these missions too. "However, in reality much of the quotas were being diverted for sale to non-diplomatic members of ACSA. Henceforth every diplomatic mission will only be allowed to import individually and directly," said a source.

The ACSA membership guidelines for diplomats from third countries says the applicant must fully understand that the goods sold by the Association are brought into the country duty-free under the terms provided in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations granted by the Government of India. "The applicant must recognize that these duty-free goods are for the personal use of self and eligible family members and these goods may not be sold, bartered, or traded and that any violation of this policy could lead to disciplinary action and/ or loss of ACSA privileges," it says.

It is interesting that the state department's own Office of Inspector General pointed to irregularities in procurement of alcohol and monthly rations by the US embassy in a 2011 report. "The primary issue with ACSA is the need to establish better controls on purchases of alcoholic beverages and tobacco," it said. "The OIG team reviewed the liquor and tobacco purchase records and found that more than 20 per cent of ACSA customers exceeded their monthly rations," it added.

According to official sources, US diplomats here and 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.


India asks US embassy to stop commercial activities by January 16

PTI | Jan 8, 2014, 11.35 AM IST

NEW DELHI: In further retaliatory steps over the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, India has asked the US to "discontinue" commercial activities being undertaken from its embassy premises in New Delhi by January 16.

India's action comes ahead of the January 13 deadline for the indictment in New York of Khobragade, deputy consul general in New York, on visa fraud charges.

Acting tough, the government has asked the embassy to stop commercial activities undertaken under the aegis of the American Community Support Association (ACSA), including restaurant/bar, video club, bowling alley, swimming pool, sports field, beauty parlour and gym.

The US has also been asked to provide the tax returns filed by it with Indian authorities for commercial activities which are afforded through ACSA to non-diplomatic persons, including private American citizens and their families, government sources said.

Indian authorities have cited the provision of such commercial facilities to non-diplomats as a violation of Article 41(3) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

The convention states that "the premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State."

It is also understood the US diplomatic vehicles will now attract penalties for all traffic-related offences such as unauthorized parking, red light jumping, dangerous driving, etc.

Necessary action against Vehicles with AF (Applied for) number plates is also on the cards.


Party's over for the US embassy: External Affairs Ministry orders US mission to shut cafes, gym, and salon - and cracks down on duty-free alcohol

PUBLISHED: 22:12 GMT, 7 January 2014| UPDATED: 22:12 GMT, 7 January 2014

With less than a week left for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's formal indictment in New York for visa fraud, New Delhi's pressure on the American embassy here has begun to hit where it hurts.

Two fresh diplomatic notes verbales accessed by Mail Today reveal that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) wants the embassy's club shut down and the sale of duty-free liquor within it to end.

The commissary in the US Embassy in New Delhi that sells duty-free liquor is not allowed to do so, and this should be discontinued, one of the notes verbales says.

"We have a suspicion that the US commissary is making profits by selling duty-free liquor and other items to diplomats from other countries. This must stop immediately," an MEA source told Mail Today.

The US commissary, which sells duty-free liquor, wine and exotic foreign goods at cheap prices, is favoured by many Western diplomats.

The second diplomatic note confirms what Mail Today reported earlier - that the government has sent a formal notice to the embassy to shut the American Club situated near its Gate E.

The club, whose official name is the American Community Support Association (ACSA), has a restaurant, swimming pool, soccer field, tennis court besides a host of facilities used by American diplomats and US nationals in India.

New Delhi's note verbale says that the US is violating diplomatic protocol by running a beauty salon, restaurant and other facilities

Eateries at the club include the Out of India Restaurant, Delhi Diner Snack Bar, The Great Escape Bar, Windward Café Poolside Bar, besides the Cafeteria.

The club also has a gymnasium, swimming pool, and bowling alley besides a gift shop and a DVD rental shop.

The note verbale says that the US is violating diplomatic protocol by running a beauty salon, restaurant and other facilities, and that these should be shut within 10 days.

ACSA has seven categories of members, including non-diplomats in categories such as guest members, affiliate members, and affiliate special members. It also provides membership to diplomats of other countries who also make duty free purchases at the commissary.

Officials say many non-diplomats, including some persons from the corporate world, have been allowed duty-free purchases as well as use of the facilities in violation of all norms.

The ongoing tussle will hurt the diplomatic community, especially their families, who have enjoyed the facilities at the American club.

The decision is clearly the fallout of the Devyani Khobragade incident, but MEA officials say that it also sets right a diplomatic anomaly as the Indian mission in the US has never enjoyed the special diplomatic privileges the US has been given here.

India has already told US interlocutors that Indo-US ties will come under severe strain if the US prosecutor Preet Bharara goes ahead with framing charges against Devyani, a development that will make the case even more complex.

The Central Board of Excise and Customs has been asked to look into alleged service tax violations by the US mission.

An air ticket purchased by the US embassy for the husband and family of Devyani's maid Sangeeta Richard, who along with her family is now under the protection of the US Department of Homeland Security, has come in for specific mention.

Also under the scanner are movie screenings at the American Centre in New Delhi and similar other centres. The proposal suggests that the US was organising these screenings without any permissions or censor certificates, and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry will be asked to examine this.

Another recommendation that forms part of the MEA's proposals is related to an understanding of 1973 between India and the US that exempted 16 employees of the American School from paying taxes.

This concession has been misused by the US mission and no American School staffer pays taxes now. This has also being referred to the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance.

The MEA also wants to examine employment contracts of all local employees and make it mandatory for the US mission to file all contracts with the MEA.

These measures form part of a set of proposals aimed at putting pressure on the US establishment to make them realise the seriousness of the situation.


  1. My advice would be to appeal the original visa request and try to demonstrate that you will return to India after your visit.

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