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Newsline: US mission in India can’t sell duty-free alcohol, cigarettes to embassies

New Delhi has told around 39 embassies and international organisations in the Capital to stop depending on the American Community Support Association (ACSA) club, on US embassy premises, for their duty-free import of alcohol, cigarettes and food items. This is a strict step to stop ACSA’s “commercial activities and misuse of diplomatic privileges”, which came under New Delhi’s scanner as a result of the fallout after the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on visa fraud charges in New York. An MEA note verbale to the US embassy read: “…Due to administrative reasons, government of India has decided that all other missions and international organisations who are presently members of the ACSA shall with effect from January draw their alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and food items individually and directly with the due approval of the protocol section of the MEA”. Sources familiar with the matter said the order would impact 39 organisations and embassies. The note also requested the US embassy to “indent/buy alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and food items only for its diplomats working in its embassy… and not on behalf of any other mission/international organisation.”


Newsline: US envoy ends boycott of India’s controversial leader

US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell has held talks with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi marking an end to a decade-long US boycott of the controversial leader. Mr Modi is the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for PM in the forthcoming elections. He was criticised for doing little to prevent religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died. Mr Modi has always denied wrongdoing. Riots erupted after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire which Muslims were blamed for igniting. Many Western governments broke off contact with Mr Modi’s government after the riots. The US continues to refuse him permission to enter the country. Correspondents say Thursday’s meeting is an attempt by the US to build bridges with Mr Modi, whose Hindu nationalist BJP is widely expected to win the elections due by May. On Thursday morning, Ms Powell shook hands with Mr Modi at his residence in Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar, before going in for closed-door talks, the Associated Press news agency reported.


Newsline: US diplomat in Mumbai pays his Filipina maid less than $3 per hour

India and the US still seem locked in a battle for righteousness over the Khobragade issue as the strategic partners pick up the pieces after the bitter standoff, bringing the bilateral engagement back on track by scheduling the energy dialogue next month. With the US authorities refusing to withdraw visa fraud charges against diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Indian authorities are proceeding with the pursuit of tax issues related to American School employment contracts and are also closely following contracts entered into by US diplomats here with their domestic helps. One such contract between a Mumbai-based US diplomat and his Filipina maid, a copy of which is with TOI, suggests that the maid is being paid less than $3 per hour. The minimum hourly wage in the US is $7.25. The US state department says that the salary paid to local staff of US diplomats is based on “prevailing wage rates and compensation practices”. Unlike the contract between Khobragade and her maid Sangeeta Richard, though, this one between the US official and his maid doesn’t carry any stipulation of hours of work. The contract, which came into effect on December 1 last year, says the Filipina maid would work “six full workdays per week” at a salary of $458 per month. Even at only eight hours per day, it is perhaps safe to assume she works well over 40 hours every week. CNN reported, quoting a state department report, that many local staff of US diplomats across the world were being paid less than a dollar per day.


Newsline: Indian income tax department ‘discreetly’ probing US embassy school

The Income Tax department has begun a ‘discreet’ probe into alleged tax violations by the elite American Embassy school in the capital, as the external affairs ministry awaits an official response from US officials on a request for details of staff employed at the school and their salaries. Government sources said the ‘discreet probe’ was initiated by the I-T department’s tax exemption wing, which deals with tax related issues pertaining to charitable institutions and bodies that have been granted I-T waiver. The investigation on the American Assembly is in fallout of the row sparked by the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud in New York last December. As per the information available with the government, several teachers at the American Embassy school were working, in violation of both tax laws and their visa status. The government has earlier indicated that these violations were serious and it was likely to initiate action in this regard. However, MEA is still awaiting a response on the information sought in December last year on visa and other details of all the teachers at these schools and their salaries along with the bank account details of their Indian staff members.


Newsline: Indian immigration accuses US embassy teachers of visa fraud

Indian immigration authorities have accused staff at the US embassy school in New Delhi of tax and visa offences. This is being seen as retaliation for the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York for visa offences in December 2013. The American Embassy School is a school primarily for the children of English speaking diplomats in New Delhi. The school is situated on land owned by the US government next to the US embassy and has 1500 pupils. Many of the teachers at the school are married couples from the US; it is frequently the case that both husband and wife teach at the school. There is a 1973 agreement between India and the US which allows some teachers at the school to be employed tax free. This does not apply to all staff and when the quota of tax free teachers is reached, India requires the rest to register for tax. To maximise the number of tax free staff working at the school, India claims, the school advises female staff who are married to male teachers to claim that they are ‘housewives’ who do not work for the school. This, Indian officials say, means that the women are in breach of Indian immigration and tax laws. Syed Akbaruddin of India’s Ministry of External Affairs told The Times of India that this was ‘clearly a violation of tax law. The Ministry believes that up to 16 teachers may have broken the rules and be guilty of tax and visa offences. The accusations are seen as being in retaliation for the treatment of an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade.


Commentaries: Why the U.S. Embassy Releases Pollution Data in Beijing But Not in Delhi

The United States government measures air quality levels in both its Beijing and Delhi embassies, but it only publicizes the results from its Beijing monitor. Why? In 2008, the decision by the American Embassy in Beijing to publicize the readings from its pollution measure changed the debate about air quality in China. Those readings made international news and eventually led to the establishment of dozens of other air monitoring stations around Beijing and the rest of China by the Chinese authorities. To this day, the United States Embassy’s readings are often cited in stories about Beijing’s poor air. But in Delhi, where the problem is worse and the awareness of it lower, the United States Embassy refuses to make public similar readings. Delhi’s air is roughly twice as bad as Beijing’s when measures of one of the most toxic pollutants are compared. A State Department spokeswoman in Washington explained that “much of the air quality data published in Beijing is not in English. Obviously, the U.S. Embassy Beijing makes that data more accessible. There is no such challenge in Delhi.” The State Department spokeswoman further explained that the Delhi monitor “is for the embassy compound only and does not monitor anywhere outside that area.” This is also true of the monitor in Beijing. The United States has tended to be more sensitive to government concerns in India, which it has assiduously wooed for more than a decade, than it tends to be in China, which is increasingly seen as a rival emerging power in Asia. A diplomatic kerfuffle over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York City in December has also strained relations between the United States and India.


Newsline: Man arrested for stalking Irish female diplomat in Delhi

A 28 year-old-man, who worked at the Ireland embassy, has been arrested for allegedly stalking and harassing a senior embassy official. The accused identified as Umesh was arrested after the victim and her husband approached the police. “The complainant, who is a senior position at the embassy had been receiving missed calls from several numbers even at odd hours. “Whenever she tried calling back, the number was never picked,” a police official said. Fed up by the continuous harassment, the victim and her husband approached the police. Police put the numbers on surveillance and tried to zero in on the accused but it was found that they were issued on fake documents. Investigators worked on the case systematically and narrowed down on a few suspects and Umesh was identified. After thorough interrogation, he broke down and accepted to have committed the crime. A case was registered in the matter, police said.


Newsline: India, US start discussions on diplomatic immunity

India’s new envoy to the United States says he wants to raise the “morale” of the India-U.S. relationship as the two nations look to mending ties damaged by the row over American treatment of an Indian diplomat. India’s ambassador to the U.S. says officials of the two governments are holding preliminary discussions to resolve their differing interpretations of diplomatic immunity. Relations have been strained by American treatment of an Indian diplomat who was expelled from the U.S. this month after she was indicted on accusations of exploiting her housekeeper.


Newsline: US embassy accused of underpaying Indian workers

The ministry of external affairs has accessed work contracts of several Indians employed by the US embassy in Delhi and its consulates in Chennai and Hyderabad, HT has learnt. These employees have alleged that they are being ‘underpaid’ and ‘facing discrimination’. “After Devyani Khobragade made headlines, several Indians employed by the American embassy contacted us with their grievances,” a top government official said, adding, “we are keeping the ammunition dry for future use.” Accused of tax and visa fraud by teachers employed at the American school, the US could well also be charged with underpaying Indians on its rolls. Khobragade, an Indian diplomat in the US, was charged for underpaying her maid and MEA officials believe that the employment contracts accessed by them point to the Indians being similarly underpaid. Importantly, the wages are not just lower than their American colleagues, but are well below salaries received by Indians employed by the Indian government. Some employees are now trying to leverage the recent standoff between the two countries in the hope that the US embassy may address the issue. At least one of the four employees who have now approached the MEA has told the ministry that he has put in a complaint and is awaiting internal redressal. In India, the US embassy and its consulates employ an approximate 1,000 people, ranging from security guards and cooks to senior consultants and advisors.


Newsline: India And US Squabble Over Diplomatic Privileges

Expats have been kicked out of leisure facilities at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, as the governments row over diplomatic status in their nations. The move follows the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York, accused of visa fraud and perjury. The Indian government protested strongly about the arrest and subsequent inquiry that is ongoing. Now, the Indian government has issued an order closing the American Community Support Association in New Delhi to non-diplomats. The Indians claim expats who are not embassy staff or diplomats buy duty-free imports at the club while using the restaurant, bar and leisure facilities, which include a pool, beauty salon and gym. The Indian Foreign Ministry served a notice on the club stating the commercial activities for non-diplomats violated international law and that a tax return accounting for them was expected by January 16. “We have discovered that the association sold imported duty-free goods to private American citizens and their families. These non-diplomats have also used the beauty salon, video club, swimming pool and gym,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. “These facilities are only meant for diplomats. Extending them to non-diplomats is a commercial venture and taxes need paying in India.” The US Embassy in New Delhi has declined to comment on the ban. However, American missions and embassies worldwide have similar clubs for diplomats and often extend the facilities to expats.



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