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by Moiz Mannan
It took more than a decade for Kerala to realize that India’s annual diaspora jamboree is no place to get the peculiar issues of non-resident Keralites resolved; not even a special session dedicated to its massive workforce in the Gulf.
The state has hosted NRI conclaves with different purposes earlier, but this time Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has done the right thing by announcing an all-encompassing Pravasi Bharatiya Divas exclusively for its own overseas workers.
The 11th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya divas, hosted by Kerala for the first time, concluded yesterday with nearly the same hyperbole and rhetoric as in previous years. It has become clear not that the event rolls out the red carpet only for the high and mighty NRIs to lure their money. Celebrated to mark the return from South Africa of the ‘Father of the Nation’, the high profile festival has nothing to do with Gandhian thought.
One fails to understand, why do the Government of India as well as the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs not come out straight and call it an investment meet. Then, they would be able to go about their desired business without feeling guilty about it.
The President, the Prime Minister, the Overseas Indians Affairs Minister and an array of top functionaries make it a point to refer to the plight of the blue collar workers in the Gulf and to assure that India would take care of them.
A re-iteration of their plight from this platform without ever addressing the core issues amounts to cruelty. Why should it be a platform for the overseas workers to come and narrate their woes? Does India not already have the mechanism in place to know their problems as and when they crop up? What poor NRIs expect at the PBD is helping hands and not a shoulder to cry on.
So, it’s good that Chandy has announced his state’s plans to hold a PBD in Kerala every year immediately following the national event. Further, to monitor the implementation of the announced welfare and security measures, the chief minister has envisaged the formation of a permanent Global Advisory Council. One hopes that his council would be given some statutory powers to hold the concerned accountable for inaction, if any.
According to reports from Kochi, the council would be responsible for monitoring issues pertaining to amnesty returnees, those still in jail after serving their term, financial assistance for those undergoing punishment in vehicle accidents who are unable to give compensation, providing legal assistance to those in need of it and facilitate registration of Adhaar.
The Global Advisory Committee for Kerala would monitor the decisions taken at the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and would take initiative for implementing welfare and rehabilitation programmes for the expatriates. The chief minister was further quoted as saying that the Global Advisory Committee for Kerala would also be entrusted with efforts to realize the Air Kerala project, to set up Malayalee expatriate rehabilitation projects and to deal with issues of non-resident Keralites in countries other than those in the Gulf.
The Kerala government also plans to set up a help desk to ensure the welfare of aged parents of NRIs. “Those working in West Asia can register a complaint over the phone. The government will ensure the safety of family members and will protect their personal property,” the chief minister said at the PBD session.
The greatest amount of dissatisfaction was understandably expressed by Gulf NRIs regarding the functioning of Air India. They were also deeply concerned about the bulk loss of jobs owing to nationalisation initiatives in the Gulf. For this purpose there has been a vociferous demand for a comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation package for returnees. In addition, the participants wanted free travel tickets for the oustees.
Another major issue raised by the NRIs was the limit imposed on gold NRIs can bring when they visit the country. They were told that MOIA had taken up the issue with the finance ministry and a revision in the limit could be expected in the next budget.
The delegates were also informed that the Government of India was “actively considering” a proposal to extend the period of the Non-resident Indian (NRI) status of returnees from the present one year. Many wanted effective intervention of the Government of India in getting released hundreds of Indians languishing in various jails abroad for no fault of theirs. They suggested a free legal aid facility in all embassies to help such people. The shortage of staff at embassies in the Gulf and the attitude of the existing staff also came under fire from the participants.
The high cost of remittance is pinching for the low income workers in the gulf and MOIA officials have said the issue required a “detailed technical and expert study”.
The NRIs also expressed concern over lack of facilities for higher education for their children and kin and new regulations in most Gulf countries affecting the self-employed sections. There were also suggestions regarding setting up of NRI hospitals and NRI employment exchanges.