Faced with a deluge of complaints, the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday said that the finance ministry had been urged to issue an order to the banks to allow embassy officials to withdraw money “on priority basis”.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of high denomination currency notes on November 8, foreign diplomatic missions in Delhi and other Indian cities have faced hurdles due to strict withdrawal limits and a shortage of cash.
Dominican Republic ambassador Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos had written to the MEA two days after the demonetisation move was announced asking for an increase in the withdrawal limit for embassies.
On November 17, the Ministry of Finance formed an inter-ministerial committee chaired by an Additional Secretary-rank officer, in order to look into the issues raised by demonetisation involving foreign countries, from embassies in Delhi to medical tourists and NRIs unable to exchange currency notes.
While the committee has apparently made some recommendations, the government has yet to approve them.
As an interim relief, the South Block has asked the finance ministry to allow embassies to be ahead of the queues in banks.
“With a view to avoid inconveniencing their operations, the ministry has been in discussion with concerned authorities in the government on this matter. The finance ministry, as a consequence, is being asked to issue directives to banks to allow embassy officials with identity cards to withdraw money on a priority basis,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
On the one-month anniversary of the demonetisation move, Ambassador Castellanos met the foreign secretary S. Jaishankar on Thursday.
“We appreciate learning from the dean that the vast majority of foreign missions understand that the demonetisation exercise is being conducted to combat the menace of black money and tax avoidance. We are confident that the missions would bear with the temporary difficulties that arise in that process, even as we seek to address their concerns,” Swarup stated.
He admitted that the government had not yet met the main demand of the embassies to raise the withdrawal limit.
On a question that some foreign envoys had talked about violation of Vienna Convention, Swarup said that the sentiment was understandable as the multilateral pact calls upon the host to ensure that there is no roadblock in the smooth functioning of a diplomatic post.