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by Moiz Mannan
Ask any non-resident Indian (NRI) and he will have a long list of complaints about the home country. But then, indeed, so would every resident Indian. Only, that the situation of overseas workers is peculiar owing mainly to emotional and logistical reasons.
The Government of India and many states that send a lot of their people abroad have certainly been engaged with the problems facing NRIs, even if not all of them have found satisfactory solutions.
In this space, we have often criticised the government and the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs (MOIA) over different issues pertaining to NRIs. However, as we take stock of the year gone by, we have to concede that India has certainly not ‘neglected’ its diaspora abroad. We must also take note that, in this year, overseas Indians once again made India the highest remittance receiving country in the world.
Administrative inefficiency, political expediency, red-tape and corruption are some major hurdles that have come in the way of many a well-meant initiative.
Whether India needs NRIs or vice versa is an unending debate, but in intent one cannot fault the MOIA which, under minister Vayalar Ravi, has been at least an active unit.
Take the case of the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana (MGPSY) which was launched in May 2012 for the benefit of Indian workers. The scheme is aimed at low and middle income workers going to ECR (Emigration Clearance Required) countries to provide for their return and resettlement as well as a modest pension for subsistence.
On their return to India, the workers who enroll for the scheme are able to withdraw the Return and Resettlement savings as a lump sum. They can continue to save for their old age in the NPS-Lite in line with the Swavalamban Scheme. Alternatively, subscribers can withdraw pension corpus.
For any NRI-oriented initiative to be effective and successful, the co-operation and active support of the state government is very important. To this end, the MOIA organises consultation meeting with the state governments to discuss issues relating to emigration and ways to partner with Ministry to address the concerns of NRIs. The fifth edition of the Consultation Meeting this year was attended by senior officials of ministries of overseas Indians affairs and external affairs besides senior government functionaries from major manpower exporting states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The states were appraised about the revised Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) scheme for the larger benefits of the Overseas Indians. In the last three years, Rs217m have been spent from the ICWF to help more than 19,000 Indians.
Similarly, the success of various measures undertaken by the ministry depends largely upon the active participation of the Indian missions in the major emigration destinations. The 7th Heads of Indian Missions (HoMs) conference was held in New Delhi this year to discuss protection and welfare of overseas Indian workers. The officials were made privy to plans to open a Protector of Emigrants Office (PoE) in Bengaluru, in addition to the recent ones at Rae Bareli and Guwahati. A Protector of Emigrants (POE) office was also inaugurated in Jaipur during the 2012 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas hosted by the city.
The mission officials were also asked to promote and support the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana. The conference was attended by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as Jordan, Yemen, Malaysia, the Maldives Angola, Thailand, Nigeria, Iraq and Libya. According to ministry sources, there are approximately 7.5 million semi-skilled and unskilled overseas Indian workers in the GCC countries and Malaysia on temporary employment or contract visas, predominantly in the construction, healthcare and household services sectors.
In continuation with its efforts to address the peculiar problems of Indians in West Asia, the ministry has entered into Bilateral Labour Agreements with UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Malaysia. The highlights are the establishment of the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) in the Indian missions to provide immediate relief to Indian workers in need and distress, Overseas Workers Resource Centre (OWRC) at New Delhi with a 24x7 helpline and walk-in counseling centre to provide information and to handle workers problems. This centre uses eight Indian languages and has a toll free number for Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) at Dubai for providing information to the Indian workers and to handle their problems. During the visit of Labour Minister of Saudi Arabia, it was agreed that both countries will initiate a dialogue process for an MoU between the two countries for welfare of workers.
On the flip side, the government has failed to address pressing NRI demands such as proxy or absentee voting rights, quotas for admission to professional courses, rules for carrying gold ornaments into the country and Kerala’s plea to start a low-cost air service to the Gulf.