He may have done with an eye on the upcoming elections, but the approach taken by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy at the 4th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas needs to be lauded. While other chief ministers were busy touting their states as lucrative investment destinations, Chandy brought forth the serious problems faced by millions of Indians in the Gulf and went on to suggest solutions.
As we had discussed in this column earlier, the plight of Gulf NRIs is unique and their status vastly different from those in the West and other parts of the world. One American NRI I met recently couldn’t even bring himself to Pronounce ‘Bharatiya Pravasi Divas.’ “Why do they have to have such Complicated names?” asked the man who likes to refer to himself as ‘Al.’
That’s the difference which the Indian planners ought to realise and be empathetic to. Making a big brouhaha about giving voting rights isn’t going to fool anybody. How many Gulf NRIs would actually want to make a trip home simply to vote? If countries like the Philippines can arrange for their overseas citizens to vote in the host country, why not India?
Similarly, the granting of Overseas Indian Citizenship means little to them. The lip service comes across and settles on the psyche of the Gulf Indian. He then starts making plans to shift to the US or Australia rather than ever return home. This is a pity, because India now has so much to offer in return of the multi-national and multi-cultural experience apart from honed skills that a Gulf NRI is likely to bring with him.
This feeling of being unwanted keeps him away from home and compels him to keep combating emotionally, psychologically and even financially challenging circumstances.
A six-member panel formed by the Andhra Pradesh government early last year observed in its recently-submitted report that Gulf NRIs from the state face serious problems and many end their lives committing suicide. The problems include poor wages, illegal visas and betrayal by recruitment agencies.
The group came out with special recommendations to address some of the most pressing problems. Initially it recommended the setting up of a corpus fund to extend financial assistance to bring back bodies of deceased non-resident Indians from the Gulf region and to meet any other eventualities.
The study group has further recommended the introduction of a group insurance scheme for NRIs covering accident, health and other risks, registration of recruitment agents and overseas educational consultancies by the state government. The recruitment agents would have to select candidates only from the overseas employment exchange to be set up under the aegis of the proposed Overseas Manpower Corporation.
A single-window cell to undertake programmes to teach basic Arabic and English language skills and social etiquette to house-maids, drivers and other semi-skilled workers, looking for jobs abroad.
The group also asked the government to create a data bank containing information of all the NRIs residing in different countries and to issue smart cards to facilitate verification of sponsorship for job and visit visas at the time of immigration.
Also it proposed the application of eye-scanning and fingerprinting technology for storing individuals’ data while they move out or return to the country. The group also recommended setting up a separate department to deal with NRI issues.
The special cell under the department would undertake several assignments including introduction of special schemes, advise and assist NRIs for investment in the state and coordinate with various departments. Andhrites constitute the second largest Indian community in the Arabian Gulf, next to Keralites.
On his part, the Kerala C M too has put forth similar suggestions. He said at the PBD-2006 that he would want the Indian government to become a stakeholder in job contracts signed by Indians abroad. He said this would give the government a locus standi in labour cases.
As for the unscrupulous recruitment agents, it has been suggested time and again that the Ministry of External Affairs, the Labour Ministry as well as the nascent Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs should put their heads together and come out with a lasting and comprehensive solution.
The present measures amount to fire-fighting at best and total apathy at worst. Kerala is the first state, and obviously so, to call for a comprehensive Emigration Act with teeth that would empower the states to take action against illegal recruitment agents.
Like the Andhra study group, Chandy too suggested the establishment of a corpus to meet emergencies like accidents and repatriation, and stressed the need to train Gulf job-seekers. Kerala has already launched some training programmes for drivers, housemaids and nurses.