Will the Consulate General of India in New York stop fleecing of users of consular services? The Consulate General of India in New York, as elsewhere, under an initiative of External Affairs Ministry, crafted a plan, some 5 years ago, to deal with mounting complaints with regard to deficient Consular services being provided in Indian missions abroad. Organizations like GOPIO have over the years voiced the concerns of the vast non – resident Indian.

Year after years, GOPIO and other smaller organizations continued to register complaints and offer suggestions and solutions at both the local Consulate level and at the level of the government of India. And, after years of coaxing and cajoling, government of India decided to come up with a community relations plan, under which, among other things, Indian consulates will reach out to Indian community abroad to provide Consular services. The service providers, (in this case, Cox & King Global Services), were made a part of the exercise.

As part of the plan, a Consulate organizes, periodically, open house at different locations in its jurisdiction to listen to grievances of community and take care of their needs with regard to consular services they may need. At times, the consulates organized seminars, too, with a view to educating the community about the latest government of India policies with regard to a number of issues, including travel rules and requirements, and laws which concerned them which included property laws. Another role the outreach program played was building bridges through the community, with the American administration. The Consular Outreach program hasbeen helpful in bringing down the decibel level of the outcry of the community, but problems persist. There are many. And a solution to them may not be possible straightaway. However, there is one which needs immediate attention and can be taken care of without government of India needing to make a law.

While the Indian missions abroad are making all efforts to establish a rapport with the community through the outreach program and through opening their doors to community where all, without discrimination, are welcome, the service provider for New York Consulate CKGS has made community very unhappy.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader of The Indian Panorama called to complain that she was trying to contact CKGS helpline 888-585-5431 with a query about her husband’s passport and the automated service said she will be required to pay at the rate of $2.59 per minute of the call and that she should provide credit card details. She was taken aback that a service provider to the Consulate should be asking for fees to be paid for making an inquiry.

We made a call on the number provided by the lady (888-585- 543)and found the complainant lady was reporting correctly. We spoke with the local Manager Raghu Duindi who pleaded his ignorance about the phone charge but said he would look in to it.We received two days later an email from a third party who referred to our conversation with CKGS manager on the subject, saying the call charge was a part of the contract. It was a surprise for us to have received this kind of explanation from a third party, unrelated to the issue. The explanation did not come from the CKGS, nor from the Indian Consulate in New York.

We decided to refer the issue to the Consul General. We forwarded the email received from the third party to the Consul General on February 21. The CG was good enough to convey that he would look in to the complaint. On February 23, the CG informed us that the phone charge was valid under “the contract”. The question now is: why should a customer be asked to pay for seeking information from the service provider? Where is the concept of “service”? Is it ethical on the part of the CKGS to ask for a payment for answering queries of its customers, or the government of India to allow the call charge? It is simply “atrocious”, as a seniorcolleague from media put it, when we mentioned the issue to him. And, many members of the community we spoke to about the issue described the phone charge as “CKGS loot”. Will the Consulate General of India take necessary steps to stop this fleecing of users of consular services?

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