NEW DELHI: In a perceptible hardening of stand against the US, India on Christmas eve rejected the American embassy’s request for an extension on IDs for its consulate officials. With the deadline for surrender of these cards ending on Monday, India withdrew all identity cards of US consulate officials.

The move to issue fresh IDs came days after the arrest of senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on visa fraud charges involving her domestic staff, Sangeeta Richard.

In a related development Kuoni Business Travels, a popular travel agent in Delhi, will face action from the government for issuing tax-free air tickets to the Richards family — Philip, Jennifer and Jatin — bought by the US embassy. The ‘tax-exemption’ applies only to diplomats and not to Indian citizens, and there was no doubt that the Richards are Indian citizens.

The Richards’ ticket — PNR number H1XJ3 — was paid for byMasterCard. The endorsement of the ticket reads “JNTAXEXEMPTEDUSEMBASSY”. Sources said there would be action against the travel agency. The US embassy spirited away the Richards in a way that has incensed the Indian government.

Sources said US diplomats in consular posts (US has four consulates in India) would get a new set of cards that are an exact replica of the cards issued to Indian diplomats in the US. The cards, which would be given to consulate officials and not their families, (unlike earlier) reflects the reciprocity India has been insisting on. The cards will say on the reverse that consulate officials have no immunity against felony charges.

The hardening of stand by the government is contrary to the almost conciliatory tone taken by foreign minister Salman Khurshid in his interactions with journalists. Sources said the US government was trying to stall or delay the actions that they had to take.

Meanwhile, keeping security considerations in mind, the government has changed some traffic movement patterns near the US embassy. Sources said, “All US diplomatic and consular officials are being provided security as before. No changes have been made in security status of US embassy in New Delhi and the security personnel remain deployed at check posts there.”

There are a couple of steps left to be achieved in this case. First, the US state department has to issue an ID card to Khobragade which will seal her immunity status. The next step would be to negotiate with the department of justice and the state department to drop criminal charges against her, which will enable the government to bring her back easily.

Further down the road, both Khobragade and Sangeeta Richard would have to come to some understanding about the charges filed by the maid. Richard has a non-bailable warrant on her which means she can never return without being arrested at the airport.

In a larger context, India and the US would need to have a deeper dialogue on the rules of the game regarding their diplomats and what privileges they can enjoy in each other’s country.

“The US system really needs to understand two things. First, Khobragade, or any Indian diplomat, is not an ordinary citizen on an ordinary visa. They have been sent by the government of India to work for the government. Their actions are governed by government of India rules. The same goes for IBDAs like Sangeeta Richard who go on official passports and their passage and salaries are paid for by the government,” sources said.

Earlier, US consulate officials had it easy: they could import their requirements at any time during their three-year period of tenure in India. All that stops from Christmas day. US officials in consular posts will now have to import their requirements within the first six months after their arrival. Refuting media reports, officials said there was no clearance for duty-free goods since the freeze was imposed.

Officials said they had received the data on US schools in India which was being analysed. The government has started a scrutiny of whether US diplomats’ families are engaged in tax-free employment which they are not entitled to.

source: times of india