Devyani arrest: US softens as India gets tougher

The United States, somewhat cowed by a relentless Indian diplomatic offensive, has reportedly started an internal review of the circumstances that led to the reportedly public arrest and ''humiliation'' of Devyani Khobragade, a junior diplomat, in New York in a case filed by her Indian domestic help.

Washington is reviewing the actions of the National Security Council of the White House, the State Department and the Justice Department, according to a Press Trust of India report.

"(The) inter-agency review is going on right now to look into the lapses that happened in the case," the report said.

New Delhi today threatened to freeze duty-free imports for US embassy staff, on the ostensible ground that America does not extend similar facilities to Indian diplomats.

The government has questioned ''commercial activities'' being carried out in the US embassy. It says the duty-free import facilities are being misused by ''non-diplomatic personnel'', including private firms and friends of US embassy staff.

Members of the American Community Support Association (ACSA) are allowed a bottle of hard liquor, two of wine and 12 cans of beer a week at duty-free prices that an average Indian tippler would readily pay – imported alcohol is taxed at over 100 per cent in retail shops.

The ACSA members also get access to the Out of India restaurant, the Delhi Diner Snacks Bar, The Great Escape bar, the Windward Café Poolside Bar, and a cafeteria on payable but heavily discounted basis. They also enjoy free use of a gymnasium, swimming pool, bowling alley and tennis court. 

Delhi has also cited 'special affiliate membership' as another instance of misuse of privileges.

It is not yet clear if the unfriendly barriers and security measures humiliating to the Indian public - set up outside the US consulates in Mumbai and elsewhere at the taxpayers' expense - will be similarly dismantled as at the Delhi embassy.

Agency reports say the US review of the 'Khobragate' case is on round–the-clock. The only hitch could be the US judiciary, but officials in Washington are reportedly consulting the Department of Justice and the Southern District of New York on this.

The US department of defense has reportedly expressed unhappiness over the entire issue.

Agencies also quoted officials in the US as saying that they did not expect such a strong and unprecedented Indian reaction. "We have taken a hit. We will have to face the consequences," PTI quoted an administration official as saying.

Indian government officials have said that the US embassy was fully aware of the procedure in which domestic help is allowed to go to the US in the diplomat's retinue. Despite this, the US embassy never informed the US law enforcement agencies about the procedures that would have avoided the arrest and the subsequent tensions.