As a chairperson looking after non-resident Indians, Justice (retd) Rakesh Kumar Garg talks about the problems that non-resident Indians face, and more.
For eight years after studying law, Rakesh Kumar Garg continued working as a farmer in his hometown of Bathinda. Then one day something curious happened, he says. He suddenly decided to leave for Chandigarh to start his law practice. He would go on to become a very successful lawyer, retiring as Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2014. But soon after retirement he was handed over yet another challenging assignment that of Chairperson of the Punjab Commission for non-resident Indians (NRIs). The commission assumes significant role given that thousands of people from Punjab are settled in other countries, particularly in the US, Canada, Britain, other European countries, Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asian countries. As a guest speaker of the newly-formed Australian Foundation of NRIs, Justice Garg talks to The Indian Weekly about the problems plaguing NRIs in general and Australia’s NRIs in particular. Read on.
What is the NRI Commission all about? When was this set up?
The NRI Commission of Punjab was set up to protect the interests of the NRI community of the state. It was established in 2011 with powers of a civil court with a view to safeguard the interests of the community in the state. Yes Punjab is the only state to have an NRI Commission. The problem of Punjabi NRIs is specific, which distinguishes it from other Indian non-residents. Punjabis do not have nuclear families, they have joint families. Those who live abroad still have their parents, grandparents and siblings back home. Basically they are agriculturists so they still have their lands and properties. They have never separated from their ties back home. For marriages of their children, for instance, they prefer to go back to Punjab and get their children married even if both the families are outside. So Punjabis will never disconnect themselves from their home state. That sense of belongingness is strong.
What is the composition and power of the commission?
The commission has a four-member team and is headed by a retired judge of High Court. The other members include an IAS officer not below the rank of Principal Secretary or Financial Commissioner to the state government and an IPS officer not below the rank of Additional Director General of Police (ADGP). Two members are nominated from among persons having knowledge of matters and issues relating to NRIs. The Secretary, ex-cadre from PCS, would be Executive Officer of the State Commission. The secretary of this commission has to be a senior Punjab Civil Service officer. So this is the composition of the whole commission. The chairperson and the members are appointed by the state government for a period of three years. At the moment there are a few vacancies. Since having set up, I am the second chairperson and took over on January 5 this year.
The commission has all powers of the civil court trying a suit, particularly in the matters such as summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person, examining him on oath and requiring the discovery and production of documents.
It also has powers related to receiving evidence on affidavits, requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office, issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents and any other matter which may be prescribed. The state government consults the commission on all major policy matters affecting the NRIs.
What has been some of your primary work since taking over in January?
I have just completed a visit to the United States and Canada for the purpose of getting feedback about the problems and to find out how I can be more effective. I am trying to make this commission very effective. So far in the matter of investigation of police complaints and revenue cases, we have passed very effective orders. I believe that is true because the number of complaints have increased.
In this very year since I took over I got around 204 complaints from all over the world. I have disposed off 203 complaints in this past 10 months. My target is 100 per cent disposal. This is what I am doing and what I will be doing.
What is the nature of complaints/problems that NRIs face?
One is disputes regarding lands. Either it is partition of land, grabbing of someone’s land or mutation of inheritance. If someone has passed away in the family, his property has to be divided as per the law amongst all the children. Sometimes because the family member is residing abroad, his name is never included in the property. The second is lodging of complaints, which is an offshoot of this problem. Land disputes, matrimonial cases and police cases form the bulk of the complaints.
How can complaints be lodged?
It is very simple. Emails can be sent at NRIcompunjab@gmail.com. Any NRI residing in any part of the world can file his complaint through this email. What he/she has to give is the ID proof of his NRI status, maybe a copy of the passport or his residency status/citizenship etc. Along with that if he/she adds some proof to say that he is entitled to the claim, we take care of the complaint. We then ask the other departments to which the complaint belongs to give their comments. Then they respond to us. If the commission is satisfied with the department’s response then the NRI can be told about the status of his claim and the actions thereon. Sometimes even if departments don’t pass the order, the report goes to the government with my recommendations. I can therefore argue that here are the facts and evidences but the department is insisting on other conclusions, which is wrong, and so on.
What is the volume and nature of NRI complaints from Australia?
The number of complaints from Australia is very less. In all these four years since the commission has been constituted, we have received only 87 complaints from Australia. Out of those, 54 have been disposed off and 33 complaints are remaining. Most of them relate to matrimonial disputes.
Matrimonial disputes are not confined to dowry, there are many other things to it. Somehow the question of compatibility also comes in. There are cases where the boy gets married to the girl perhaps under the pressure of the parents, then leaves her and does not come back or send her visa papers or he contests the visa papers/application. Then the girl has no option but to file a case of harassment etc. against him because in a civil case or a divorce petition, the boy will not come to India. Those cases fall under section 406, 420 and then 498A (that is dowry) of the Indian Penal Code. Once a complaint goes through police authorities will start investigation and the boy is called from here sometimes on phone. Sometimes there is no response because the address is not there. The cases continue with harassment on both sides. These are some examples.
Justice R.K. Garg was born on 2nd September 1952 in an agriculturalist family at Bhucho Mandi in a small town of district Bathinda. After initial schooling at Government High School Bhucho Mandi, he graduated from Government Rajindra College, Bathinda, in June 1972. He passed three years’ L.L.B. course from S.D. (PG) Sri Ganga Nagar College affiliated to the University of Rajasthan in the year 1975. After his enrolment as an advocate on 12.01.1976 with the Bar Council of Punjab & Haryana, he started practice at district courts Bathinda. He also remained Secretary of District Bar Association in the year 1981-82. Garg shifted his practice to Punjab & Haryana High Court Chandigarh in August 1983. In the course of his practice, Garg remained on the panel of almost all the Punjab government institutions, for representing them before Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court. He also took part in social activities. He remained involved in social work through Rotary Club of Chandigarh. He is a regular blood donor as well.
Garg was elected Vice-President of Punjab & Haryana High Court Bar Association for the year 1999-2000. He was elevated to the Bench as a Judge of Punjab & Haryana High Court Chandigarh on 05.12.2007. He retired as such on 01.09.2014 on attaining the age of superannuation. During this period, he decided more than 18,000 cases, majority of them were of civil appeals.
Garg assumed the office of Chairperson, Punjab State Commission for NRIs on January 2015 for a term of three years. The said commission has been constituted under the provision of NRI Act-2011 and is a statutory body. This Commission has been constituted with a view to protect and safeguard the interest of NRIs’ in the State of Punjab and to recommend remedial measures for their welfare and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Australian Foundation of NRIs
Founded by Gurpal Singh and Gurdeep Singh Dhillon, the Australian Foundation of NRIs was formed recently to take some vigilant steps so that the reputation of the community is not tarnished. “The way we do corporate due diligence we want due diligence for our society so that our Indian community gets the respect we deserve,” says well-known lawyer Gurpal Singh.
“We requested Justice (retd) Rakesh Kumar Garg to come here and address the issues faced by non-resident Indians here. What is happening at the moment is that the credibility of the community is maligned and it is projected in the press that Indian women are suffering. But the projection of the community is one-sided,” says Singh.
Through this organisation we want to raise social issues because we believe that Indian society is a wonderful dynamic society, people work very hard and their objective is constructive in nature, says Singh.
On Saturday, October 31, the Australian Foundation of NRIs will hold a forum where Justice (retd) Garg will interact with the public in an interactive Q&A session and also look into the issues being faced by non-resident Indians here. This is a free event for the larger benefits of the Indian community, says Singh. Participants are advised to bring with them complaints in writing along with relevant documents. It will be held at 183 Pelham Street, Carlton.