In a recent session of the Rajya Sabha, Vikramjit Singh Sahney raised Unstarred Question No-66 regarding the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) and its efforts in assisting Overseas Indian nationals during times of distress and emergencies, including aiding stranded Indian nationals returning to India.
In response, V. Muraleedharan, the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, provided comprehensive information on various aspects of the ICWF.
(a & b) The ICWF, operational in all Indian Missions and Posts abroad, serves as a crucial support system for Overseas Indian nationals in distress and emergency situations. The fund is utilised to offer legal assistance, boarding & lodging support, emergency medical care, air passage for stranded Indians, transportation of mortal remains of Indian nationals, and the payment of small fines and penalties for the release of Indian nationals from jail or detention centres.
It is important to note that the ICWF is a self-sustaining fund and does not receive support from the Union budget. Instead, funds for the ICWF are generated through a service charge levied on Consular, Passport, and Visa services provided by the Missions. These funds are maintained in separate accounts for each respective Mission or Post.
The Heads of Missions and Posts are empowered to incur expenses from the ICWF within the prescribed limits. However, for expenditures beyond the prescribed ceilings, approval from the Ministry is required. Additionally, when necessary, funds can be transferred from the ICWF account of one Mission to another.
The details of fund allocation and utilisation of the ICWF in various countries, including all Gulf Countries, over the past five years, have been provided in Annexure I of the report.
Based on the data provided on the utilisation of ICWF (Indian Community Welfare Fund) in various countries, including all Gulf Countries, in the last five years (2018-2022), it is evident that the expenditure on ICWF varies significantly across different nations.
The data shows that several countries have made considerable use of the ICWF during this period. For example, Afghanistan had significant expenditures in 2018 and 2019, but they decreased significantly in the subsequent years, with no expenditure reported in 2022. Similarly, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, and many others utilised the ICWF during these years.
Among the Gulf Countries, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE utilised substantial amounts from the ICWF over the last five years. These Gulf nations have made significant investments in various projects and welfare initiatives, demonstrating their commitment to supporting their respective Indian communities and fostering bilateral relations.
On the other hand, some countries reported minimal or no utilisation of the ICWF during this period. It is essential to consider the specific factors and dynamics unique to each country that influenced the utilisation of the fund.
(c & d) The distribution of assistance to distressed Indian nationals abroad is conducted on a ‘means-tested basis.’ Each request for aid is carefully examined by the Welfare/ Community/ Consular officer, along with a three-member committee appointed in every Mission and Post. This examination involves assessing the facts and circumstances of the case and the financial capability of the concerned Indian national. These criteria are employed to determine the ‘most deserving cases’ for assistance.
(e) To ensure accountability and transparency, regular audits of the ICWF account are carried out by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) in conjunction with the statutory audit of the Missions.
Additionally, the office of the Principal Chief Controller of Accounts (Pr. CCA), Ministry of External Affairs, conducts monthly audits of the ICWF accounts for every Mission. Furthermore, detailed audit reports for each Mission have been provided in Annexure II of the report.
The provided data pertains to the audit of the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) account for various Missions and Posts conducted by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (C&AG). The ICWF is a fund set up to assist Indian nationals in distress in foreign countries. The data includes information on the last statutory audits of ICWF for each Mission, along with the respective dates.
Based on the data in Annexure II, it can be observed that the audits have been conducted at different intervals for different Missions and Posts. The most recent audit have taken place in 2023, while the oldest recorded audit goes back to 2015. The majority of the Missions underwent audits in the year 2022, indicating a relatively recent review of their ICWF accounts. However, there are also instances of audits being conducted in earlier years, such as 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Notably, some Missions had audits in 2023, indicating that the audit process is ongoing and up-to-date for those locations. On the other hand, there are still some Missions where audits have not been conducted recently, like the one where the last internal audit was conducted in 2019.
The Indian Community Welfare Fund stands as a critical lifeline for Overseas Indian nationals facing distressing situations abroad. The utilisation of the fund is closely monitored through audits, and the allocation of assistance is determined through a rigorous means-tested evaluation process.
For more detailed information and statistics, the annexures referred to in the response can be accessed on the official Rajya Sabha website.