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New Delhi Conference Builds Links with Overseas Indians - 2004-01-10

A three-day conference is being held in New Delhi to encourage overseas Indians to build closer links with their homeland. The meeting is part of an effort to tap the enormous potential of skilled Indians living abroad.

India calls them the "global Indian family" - about 22 million people of Indian origin scattered all over the world.

Generations ago, thousands of Indian families left to work in far-flung colonies of the British Empire. Others migrated in recent decades to explore opportunities in the West where they have made their mark as scientists, technocrats, doctors and authors. The annual income of overseas Indians is estimated at $160 billion, about one third of India's entire gross domestic product

The conference, sponsored jointly by India's government and industry, has drawn people like Deepak Jain, Dean of the prestigious Kellogg School of Business in the United States. Mr. Jain says recent migrants, especially, owe much to the country of their birth.

"To me the most important thing for all of us is the feeling of giving back," he said. "We are what we are today because of what we learned here, because of our education system and because of our upbringing. Bringing the latest technology, the latest concepts [back] here, that is one step."

However, the eminent economist Lord Meghnad Desai, a director of the London Stock Exchange, warns that India will only be able to attract investment from what he calls NRIs, or non-resident Indians, if an attractive climate for foreign investment is created.

"People should only invest money if they think it is profitable, not because of sentiment," he said. "The role of an NRI is to apply as rigorous standards to investing in India as investing anywhere else."

India has been attracting foreign investment in recent years, especially in the information technology sector, but high tariffs and poor infrastructure remain a deterrent to investors.

For many years India felt it was losing its brightest and most talented people to other countries. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told convention delegates Friday that India now had one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and that overseas Indians are sending home not only investment, but in some cases are coming back themselves.

"There was a time not long ago, when many people in India bemoaned the phenomenon of 'brain drain.' Today a large number of highly qualified and successful Indian professionals are returning to India because they see that India itself has now become a land of opportunity and achievement," said Atal Behari Vajpayee.

About 1,500 overseas Indians are attending the conference, which focuses on investment possibilities in science, technology, healthcare and tourism.