India moves to end expat privileges at U.S. club; sign of anger at diplomat’s arrest in N.Y.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ndia has ordered the U.S. Embassy here to shut down all “commercial activities” at a popular club it operates, stepping up the tit-for-tat measures triggered by the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York last month. A Foreign Ministry notice sent late Monday says the Indian government has learned that many non-diplomats are members of the American Community Support Association and enjoy its privileges, including a bar, restaurant and recreational facilities. The notice says this practice is “incompatible with the functions of the Mission and a clear violation of Article 41 (3) of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.” It asks the embassy to “discontinue the above commercial activities” and submit the club’s tax returns by Jan. 16.“We have come to know that the ACSA was selling imported duty-free items to private American citizens and their families as well. Also, these non-diplomats have been using facilities such as the beauty salon, video club, swimming pool and gym,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
“These facilities within the premises of a mission are only meant for diplomats. If it is extended to non-diplomats, then it becomes a commercial venture and they should have paid taxes in India.”
The Indian government has also told the New Delhi police to stop granting immunity to embassy vehicles for traffic violations — a common diplomatic courtesy.
Analysts said the action by Indian’s government appears to be in response to the arrest last month of Indian deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade in New York for allegedly underpaying her Indian nanny.
“If they are going to throw their rule book at us, then we are saying we, too, have a rule book in India,” said K. C. Singh, a former diplomat and foreign policy commentator.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the measures Wednesday. Similar clubs in other countries serve U.S. diplomats and U.S. citizens living abroad.
On Monday, Khobragade agreed to waive a Jan. 13 indictment deadline, which gives federal prosecutors and State Department officials more time to discuss possible resolution of the case with defense lawyers.
India has demanded that all charges be dropped against Khobragade, 39, who was arrested Dec. 12. Reports of Khobragade’s strip search and brief incarceration inflamed Indian outrage over what New Delhi called an insulting violation of diplomatic immunity. New Delhi continues to exert diplomatic pressure in the hope that the State Department will grant Khobragade a G-1 visa, which would protect her from prosecution.
India responded to the arrest by freezing the U.S. Embassy’s import privileges and removing the security barricades outside the embassy complex. Last week, India asked the embassy not to screen movies at the American Center without obtaining the necessary domestic licenses.
The club has become a kind of a “hub” over the years, importing duty-free food and beverages on behalf of many embassies and international organizations in New Delhi, the Indian Foreign Ministry official said. This week, the ministry sent a letter to 40 embassies and international organizations asking them to import “individually and directly,” rather than through the American club. The letter was also sent to the U.S. Embassy. On Tuesday, Khobragade’s father, Uttam Khobragade, led a protest march outside the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai calling the his daughter’s arrest “illegal.”
Courtesy : The Washington Post