India downgrades US diplomats' immunity

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Devyani Khobragade. PTI Devyani Khobragade. PTI
SummaryKhobragade fallout: Withdraws immunity of their family members, no change in security.

India on Tuesday downgraded the immunity of US diplomats stationed in consulates in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad and withdrew the immunity enjoyed by their family members.

Families of Indian consular officials in the US do not have any such privileges.

This is a direct fallout of the arrest, handcuffing and strip-search of Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York.

The downgrading of immunity is the effect of US consular officials being issued new ID cards specifying the limited immunity, which will not protect them from serious offences. This is in line with the restricted immunity given to India’s consular officials in the US — as was witnessed in Khobragade’s case.

Families of American consular officials will no longer have diplomatic ID cards.

Sources said India decided to take the firm reciprocal steps following the end of the deadline for surrender of identity cards provided to US consular staff in India. “All identity cards provided to US consular officials now stand withdrawn. New cards which are exact replicas of cards provided to Indian consulate officials in the US are being given in lieu of the withdrawn cards. These cards will only be given to consular officials and not their family members,” sources said.

Family members of Indian consulate officials in the US are not provided with such cards, they noted, citing the 2011 arrest of Krittika Biswas, daughter of Debashish Biswas, the vice counsel at the Indian consulate in Manhattan. At the time, US State Department categorically said family members of Indian consular officials do not have immunity.

The move will ensure strict reciprocity in terms of identity cards being carried by Indian and US consular officials in each others’ country, sources said. Sources added that, acting reciprocally, US consular staff will now only be permitted to import their requirements during the first six months on assuming office, as is provided in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations. Previously, they were allowed to import their requirements over the three-year period of their tenure.

India had also given December 23 as the deadline to the US embassy to file visa and other key details of Indians employed by it and its officers. This information includes salary being paid to domestic helps employed by US diplomats in India.

However, the sources dismissed the concerns regarding security of US diplomatic officials in India.

“India takes its obligations under the Vienna Convention very seriously and there has not been any loosening of security. There is no change in the security situation and all US diplomatic and consular officials are being provided security as before”, they said.

Sources added that changes have been made in traffic movement patterns, while no change has been made in security status of US Embassy in New Delhi and the security personnel remain deployed at check posts there.

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