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India limits immunity for US diplomats, withdraws it for kin

New Delhi, Dec 24, 2013 (PTI): 20:55 IST
Devyani Khobragade. PTI Photo
In a tough reciprocal action, India today downgraded the immunity of certain category of US diplomats and withdrew the immunity enjoyed by their family members, in a fallout of the arrest of a senior Indian diplomat in New York.

US consular officials in four consulates in India are being issued new ID cards specifying the limited immunity which will not protect them from serious offences. This is in line with the restricted immunity given to India's Consular officials in the US.

Families of American consular officials will no longer have diplomatic ID cards, an out of way privilege enjoyed by them in India. Families of Indian consular officials do not have any such privileges.

After the arrest and strip search of its senior diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York in a visa fraud case, India had reacted angrily and had taken slew of steps to curtail privileges enjoyed by the US diplomats. It had asked all the US consular officials and their families to surrender their ID cards by yesterday for a review of their immunity and other benefits.

Sources said India has decided to take firm reciprocal steps following the end of the deadline for surrender of Identity Cards provided to US Consular Staff in India.

"All Identity Cards provided to US Consular officials now stand withdrawn. New cards which are exact replicas of cards provided to Indian Consulate officials in the US are being given in lieu of the withdrawn cards. These cards will only be given to the Consular officials and will not be given to their family members," sources said.

The family members of Indian Consulate officials in the US are also not provided with such cards, they noted and cited the example of arrest of Krittika Biswas, daughter of the vice counsel at the Indian Consulate in Manhattan, Debashish Biswas, in 2011 when the US State Department categorically said the family members of Indian consular officials do not have immunity.

Not issuing IDs to families of US consular officials will ensure strict reciprocity in terms of the Identity Cards being carried by Indian and US consular officials in each others’ country, sources said. The sources said, further, acting reciprocally, US consular staff will now only be permitted to import their requirements during the first six months on assuming office as is provided in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations. Previously, they were allowed to import their requirements over the three year period of tenure.

India had also given December 23 as the deadline to the US embassy to file the visa and other key details of the Indians employed by it and its officers. This information includes salary being paid to domestic helps employed by US diplomats in India.
"The data regarding US schools which has been received is being analysed and assessed," the sources said.

However, the sources dismissed the concerns regarding security of US diplomatic officials in India.

"India takes its obligations under the Vienna Convention very seriously and there has not been any loosening of security. There is no change in the security situation and all US diplomatic and consular officials are being provided security as before", they said.

The sources added that changes have been made in traffic movement patterns and no change has been made in security status of US Embassy in New Delhi and the security personnel remain deployed at check posts there.

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