The US embassy and its consulates might be violating the laws of their country concerning the wages paid to the Indian staff employed by these missions, as well as by individual diplomats, informed sources said on Sunday.
Keeping up the pressure on the US, a special group set up in the external affairs ministry will meet in New Delhi on Monday to scrutinise the available information regarding the wages being paid to Indian staff, amid indications that these may be violative of the laws.
US embassy and its consulates are still dragging their feet in furnishing to the government the details it has sought about the number of Indian staff employed both in the diplomatic mission and also at the residences by their diplomats. The details sought include the wages paid as well as the tax details.
The deadline to provide such information was December 23 but according to the Ministry of External Affairs no information has been provided as yet. It is understood that the US Embassy has cited Christmas and New Year holidays as the reason for the delay.
The government's action is a fallout of the arrest and strip-search of Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested in New York on visa fraud charges.
Enforcing strict reciprocity, Indian government has withdrawn extra privilges enjoyed by American Ambassador Nancy Powell and other diplomats such as special access at Indian airports.
While the government is awaiting American response, information available indicates that Indian staff like cooks and drivers were being paid between Rs 12,000-15,000 which is equivalent to $200-250, way below the minimum wage of $9.47 per hour applicable in New York or in any other US city.
Thus, American diplomats would be in violation of US law of minimum wages since their residences as well as the embassy and consulates are treated as American territory.
Even if they provide legal justifications and claim exemption from US laws for the salaries being paid to Indian employees, the public disclosure of such payment practices by US Embassy and diplomats in their personal capacities is likely to deeply embarrass the US.
The US insists on high hourly wages for Indian diplomats employing maids but pays much lower salaries to Indians being employed by its own Embassy and diplomats in India for similar work. There was no immediate response from the US Embassy when contacted by PTI.
The government's reaction to set up the special group, comprising inter-divisonal experts, including from legal, financial and human resources departments of MEA, to assess and monitor the inputs sought by the governments came after Khobragade, the 39-year-old 1999-batch IFS officer, was arrested in New York on December 12.
Khobragade is accused of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. The diplomat's arrest and subsequent treatment had sparked an outrage in India which demanded an apology and dropping of all charges against her.