Several crucial questions still remain unanswered in the Devyani Khobragade incident. The million dollar question is this: why she did not tell the police officers who came to arrest her in New York on 12 December that she enjoyed full diplomatic immunity?
Devyani was actually covered under full diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest and it turns out there are documents to prove it. (Please see the attached document and the relevant section of the Viena Convention)
The reason the diplomat didn't disclose it was that she herself was not aware of the fact she had been actually accredited as an “Advisor” to the Permanent Mission of India (PMI) in New York with effect from 26 August 2013.
Inquiries conducted by this writer from diplomatic channels have revealed that neither Devyani nor the Ministry of External Affairs was aware of this vital fact on 12 December, the day of her arrest.
She had registered with the UN for her PMI accreditation and forgotten about it. The MEA too did not discover this till the incident exploded in the face of the Government of India after her arrest.
After the high-octane diplomatic spat that was triggered between India and the United States, the Government of India promptly issued an executive order transferring Devyani to the PMI so that she gets full diplomatic immunity. This was New Delhi’s desperate fire-fighting measure to respond to the American provocation.
But till this time, neither Devyani nor the MEA seemed to be aware that her earlier registration with the UN had already met with success and she was covered by complete diplomatic immunity at the time of the ignominious developments on 12 December.
Insiders reveal that after the Indian government transferred her to the PMI (so that she can get complete diplomatic immunity) she went about the task of doing the paper work. At that stage, she realized that she had already sent in an application for the same purpose several months before and her photo and her coordinates should be in the UN database.
It was at that point of time that Devyani realised that not only she had applied to the UN but the fact that her application had been already accepted.
This explains why Devyani did not claim full diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest and subsequent incarceration.
The diplomat's second big mistake was that she did not carefully study the form her domestic help Sangeeta Richard had submitted wherein she had filled $ 4500 as her monthly salary, whereas this figure was meant to represent Devyani’s salary.
In retrospect, Devyani finds herself in the snake pit because of these two mistakes which eventually cost her dearly. It is thanks to these mistakes that her passport is deposited with the New York court, which means that though she is free to travel anywhere in the US, she cannot leave the country.
The incident also throws up important lessons for the Indian government. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the Government of India needs to work out an institutionalised mechanism ensuring that all domestic helps and non-diplomatic staff are hired by the Indian government rather than by individual officers.
This is the most effective solution, but it does not find favour with the Ministry of Finance which has been blocking it. The finance ministry’s objection is that if the Government of India were to enter into contracts with non-diplomatic staff meant to serve Indian diplomats abroad, then this might lead to a situation where these employees would extract their pound of flesh and press claims for facilities that are for full-fledged Government of India servants.
In such a scenario, there seems to be confusion all around on the status of India Based Domestic Assistants (IBDA).
The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.
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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2014 15:08:40 IST