Indian missions abroad

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New Zealand

Indian missions abroad; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Jun 28 2015

The Times of India, Jun 28 2015

India recalls envoy to NZ after wife accused of beating cook

Staffer says he was `kept in slavery'

Indian diplomats have earned notoriety for ill-treating their domestic help and one of them did their reputation no favour with the wife of India's high commissioner to New Zealand, Ravi Thapar, allegedly assaulting a “staff member“ in Wellington. The high commissioner has been recalled and an inquiry ordered, although the staff is said to have withdrawn the complaint and returned to India. India did not have to invoke Thapar's immunity to bring him back.

Thapar has denied he was having to leave the country because his wife, Sharmila, had assaulted a domestic staff.“I'm going but to take care of my mum because my dad passed away last year. I can't keep up 13,000km away just talking to her on the phone,“ New Zealand Herald quoted him.

According to New Zealand media reports, the victim, who worked as a chef, told police that Thapar's wife “had kept him in slavery“. Thapar and his wife both denied the charges. The diplomat told the publication his wife was an “experienced diplomatic spouse“ incapable of assaulting an “able-bodied man“.

“The guy had absolute freedom to walk away and to do whatever ... we trusted him,“ he said, adding that the staff may have been in touch with his “external collaborators“ when he left his home. MEA officials said the ministry first came to know of the incident on May 10 when the employee went missing from the Indian high commission. The matter was immediately reported to the local police and the foreign office in Wellington.

The wife of Mr. Ravi Thapar who is India's high ommissioner to New Zealand has been alleged to have had assaulted one of their staff members.

“The New Zealand authorities reverted with the information that the service staff member presented himself to the New Zealand Police on May 11 and made certain allegations,“ said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.

Anxious to ensure that there was no repeat of a Devyani Khobragade-like situation, where the diplomat was detained and later officially arrested, the ministry immediately sent a team to Wellington to “ascertain the facts and conduct an independent inquiry“. The team liaised with the New Zealand authorities to resolve the matter and facilitated the return of the service staff member. He came back on May 28.

After high commissioner Ravi Thapar's wife allegedly assaulted him, the staff reportedly ran away from the high commissioner's residence. He was reported to have wandered around the city for hours before the police traced him. After his statement to the police, he is said to have spent several nights at a Wellington night shelter.

Indian officials brushed aside suggestions that this case bore any similarity with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, India's acting consul general in New York in 2013 who was accused of underpaying her maid. “There was neither any arrest nor any request for waiver for immunity ,“ said an official.

New Zealand media said Thapar was set to leave the country on Saturday . The country's ministry of foreign affairs and trade (MFAT) did not try to prevent Thapar from leaving the country .

“MFAT was aware a staff member raised with New Zealand police concerns about his treatment in the high commission,“ a spokesman said.“MFAT has been advised the individual concerned not to take the matter further.“

The UK

2003-19: £6m congestion bill

Naomi Canton, London mission runs up £6m congestion tab, June 8, 2019: The Times of India


The Indian government has run up more than £6 million in debt to British authorities by refusing to pay the London congestion charge, according to Transport for London (TfL). The local government body is now lobbying the British government to take the debt to the UN’s International Court of Justice.

Figures published by TfL show that India has the fourth-highest debt of all embassies and owes TfL £6,196,465 (about Rs 55 crore).

A high commission official said they were aware of the figure but were not paying it. “This is a kind of tax and diplomatic missions are exempted from paying taxes,” he said.

The charge was introduced in 2003 to reduce congestion and pollution in the centre of the capital and invest the profits into public transport. The figures show that as of March 31, 2019 the total amount owed by embassies for unpaid congestion charge and related penalty charge notices is £118.5 million (Rs 1,047 crore). The American embassy has the highest debt at £12.5 million (Rs 110 crore), followed by the embassy of Japan at £8.6 million (Rs 76 crore) and the Nigeria high commission, which owes £7.1 million (Rs 63 crore).


‘Congestion fee a service charge, not tax’

A US embassy spokesperson said: “Our position on the tax established by TfL, more commonly known as the congestion charge, is based on the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which expressly prohibits the taxation of diplomatic missions in this manner. Our position is therefore wholly in accordance with that convention, to which both the US and the UK are parties, and it is a position shared by many other diplomatic missions in London.”

“We are clear that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax,” said Paul Cowperthwaite, TfL’s general manager for road user charging. Claiming that diplomats are not exempt from paying it.

Drivers have 48 hours to pay the per day £11.50 (Rs 1,016) fee once they have entered the zone otherwise they are slapped with a £160 (Rs 14,140) penalty charge.

“We can’t send bailiffs round. That’s why they have not paid as that is not particularly scary. Around three quarters of embassies in London do pay, but there remain a stubborn minority who refuse to,” a TfL spokesman said.

A UK foreign office spokesperson said they “pressed all diplomatic missions to pay congestion charge debt” and raised the issue with new ambassadors and high commissioners whose missions are in debt to TfL. But one Londonbased diplomat said: “Diplomacy is generally reciprocity. What happens if other countries start imposing the same taxes on British diplomats?”

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