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by Moiz Mannan
Efforts by Indian authorities to resettle uprooted returnees from the Gulf region seem to jump from one amnesty scheme to the other. In the news now are returnees mainly to Andhra Pradesh who are leaving the UAE under a recent scheme to pardon and repatriate migrants staying illegally.
Top Indian leaders rarely miss an opportunity to wax eloquent over the huge contributions of non-resident Indians to the home country. For many years now, India has remained the global topper in receiving remittances. This year the money sent home through legal channels is expected to cross a whopping $70bn. The World Bank has noted that the sharp increase in remittances to India has come from the Gulf countries.
NRI deposits have immensely helped India in averting its balance of payments crisis. A time series data compiled by the Department of Economic Analysis and Policy of the Reserve Bank of India on the country’s balance of payment trends since 1948-49 shows that Non-Resident Indian Deposits (NRDs) have risen continuously since the mid-1970s. The data further suggest that the dependence on NRDs grew substantially in the 1980s from $1.8bn in 1980-81 to $10.4bn in 1989-90 and $10.6bn in
1990-91, before falling for the first time in 1991-92 to $7.8bn. The reversal in the rising trend of NRDs was clearly linked to large-scale withdrawal of such deposits by Non-Resident Indians following the outbreak of Gulf War in late 1990. Since then the NRDs have picked up again. In the first eight months of 2012-13 alone the deposits had touched $11.24bn.
This background is necessary to understand in full measure the apathy of the governments at the centre and state level in dealing with the issue of resettlement and rehabilitation of these who were adored when abroad.
According to Professor Prakash C Jain of Jawaharlal Nehru University, perhaps the most significant problem of Gulf returnees is the problem of economic integration. The problem of unemployment is particularly acute among the highly educated and technically qualified. As substantial proportion of the Gulf returnees belongs to this category of workforce.
There is yet another dimension to the problem of unemployment among Gulf returnees. They are status conscious, and their actual occupations abroad often concealed anyway, neither will they risk their prestige by taking to farming nor will they ever contemplate turning again into porters, waiters or labourers.
In may be recalled that after the 2007 wave of returnees, several special job melas were hurriedly organised for the affected people. The response was lacklustre. For example, hardly 10 percent of the 1,400 or so returnees who turned up at a mela organised by the Medak DRDA in Andhra Pradesh were willing to accept the jobs offered in the construction industry.
Prof Jain opines that in order to ameliorate the problems of Gulf returnees some well-planned rehabilitation schemes are required to be launched by the Central or state governments. In Gulf migration areas, those schemes can be conceived either as a part of the general employment problem or exclusively for the returnees.
Any rehabilitation scheme should be designed as part of the overall manpower export policy. In this connection, the idea of re-export of experienced returnees can be promoted which might also give India a competitive edge in the international labour market.
There are some like well-known Kerala historian M G S Narayanan who has suggested that the government should appoint a permanent advisory committee to look into the problems of Gulf returnees and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs).
The view is that such a permanent committee should comprise economic experts, sociologists and social engineers to advise the government. Besides, it would also find ways to constructively invest the hard-earned income of
In Kerala, some NRI organisations have suggested a multi-pronged approach to help workers in the Gulf affected by factors like recession. Their skills could be utilised domestically or they could be helped in relocating to other countries. There is also a suggestion to provide admissions and free education for an initial period of resettlement. Other than that, the state governments could set up housing complexes exclusively for the purpose of rehabilitation.
Privately, there are some voluntary bodies already engaged in this work. The Indo Arab Confederation Council, for example, is an organisation of Gulf returnees engaged in implementing various rehabilitation schemes in Kerala.
Last year, the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs (MOIA) put into motion the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana (MGPSY) that calls upon migrants to make a yearly contribution of Rs4,000 that will be matched with a government contribution of Rs900 for a period of five years. That can hardly be called a rehabilitation scheme.
In the wake of the recent amnesty-spurred wave of returnees, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy was quoted by the media as having assured ‘every assistance to rehabilitate the workers,” particularly in terms of housing and employment.
Earlier, this year, during his speech at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had said his government was chalking out a project for rehabilitating Gulf returnees and providing them livelihood in the state. Let’s see.
A few months ago, during a tour of the Jagtial Assembly segment in Telangana, former Andhra Chief Minister
N Chandrababu Naidu, was said to have assured some affected families that (as and when he came to power) he would create a separate ministry for Gulf returnees. Well, let’s see.