With the Ministry of External Affairs adding momentum to the process of withdrawing unreciprocated courtesies extended to US consular officials in India, New Delhi on Tuesday once again toughened its posture in its stand-off with Washington over the arrest and humiliation of its diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
Top officials of the Ministry of External Affairs summoned the Deputy Chief of the American Embassy in New Delhi, Michael P Pelletier, to the South Block and told him that the government had decided to implement its decision to withdraw the identity cards issued to the family members of the US consular officials in India.
All the identity cards issued to the US consular officials and the members of their families now stand withdrawn, sources said. The US consular officials in Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai will later be issued new cards, which will be exactly similar to the ones issued to their Indian counterparts in the US. The family members of the US consular officials, however, will not be issued new identity cards, added the sources.
New Delhi decided to withdraw the ID cards to the members of the families of the US consular officials as it was a courtesy that the American government never reciprocated. Family members of the Indian consular officials in America were never issued identity cards by the US Department of State. The decision was taken after the arrest of India’s Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade, on December 12 triggered a diplomatic spat.
The MEA officials on Tuesday also told Pelletier that the US consular staff in India would now be permitted to import their requirements only during the first six months after assuming office as provided for by the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations. They were previously allowed to import their requirement over a period of three years.
The government earlier withdrew duty exemptions granted to US consular officials for bringing certain items, including liquor.
The government asked for salary details of Indians employed by the US consulates in India, including the ones appointed as domestic helps by the consular officials and their families. It also asked for the salary details of the spouses or other family members of the US consular officials working outside the consulates.
Sources said that the US Embassy in New Delhi submitted the visa and salary details of its citizens and the salary details of Indians working at the US schools in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi, as demanded by the MEA.
The data is now being analysed, the sources added.
Though the government had asked US consular officials to return the identity cards issued to them and their family members by Monday, the American Embassy in New Delhi sought for an extension of the deadline. The MEA on Monday appeared to be softening its stance and not averse to extending the dateline, but it again hardened its stand on Tuesday, ostensibly after it decided to keep up pressure on Washington till Khobragade was issued the new identity card by the US State Department.
Sources said that Office of Foreign Missions of the US Department of State would issue a new diplomatic ID card for Khobragade. Though the necessary paperwork and procedural formalities between the UN and US State Department already started, sources said that the new ID card might be issued only after the vacation for Christmas.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the US embassy had paid for the air tickets for three family members of the absconding maid of Khobragade when they were “evacuated” from here to New York last week.
The tickets for the maid’s husband Philip Richard and their two children—Jennifer and Jatin—were issued by the official travel agency of the US embassy, sources said.
The tickets were exempt from service tax of 4.50 per cent as per the norm for diplomatic missions, the sources said.
The maid’s family flew by Air India on December 10, two days before Khobragade was arrested on a charge of paying her maid—Sangeeta Richard—less then the minimum wages under the US law.