by Moiz Mannan
There appears to be little to hope for from the Indian government for those blue-collar workers who lose their jobs in the Gulf. The Minister for Overseas Indians Affairs (MOIA) Vayalar Ravi himself has conceded that the centre does not have any plan to rehabilitate expatriates returning to India.
A scheme that was launched for poor returnees seems to have flopped with only 90 applicants in two years. Some states have done well, on the other hand. Norka Roots, an agency working as an interface between the people and the state government of Kerala has reported receiving around 18,500 applications for rehabilitation in the state. Most of these workers have been affected by Saudi Arabia’s Nitaqat policy.
Last month, Ravi clearly told delegates at a congregation of non-resident Indians (NRIs) that “there is no programme for the rehabilitation for anybody coming from any part of the world to India.” He added that he had made attempts in this regard, although it did not fall under his ministry.
“Last time when something had happened in Saudi Arabia, I had interaction with the Finance Ministry and made a lot of representations,” he said while adding the Finance Ministry could not be persuaded to agree to the demand.
However, Ravi assured to take up the issue along with state and central governments for financial assistance at the appropriate time. Earlier, Federal Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed told the gathering that 14 lakh people have been displaced from the Gulf country for the first time in the history of our relationship with the Gulf.
Ravi, in a recent statement on the floor of the parliament, told lawmakers that efforts were being made to popularise the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojna (MGPSY), a pension, insurance and resettlement scheme launched for Indian workers in ECR (Emigration Clearance Required) countries.
Ravi told members of the Rajya Sabha that the government has sanctioned awareness-cum-enrolment camps in the UAE and also stepped up media campaigns for creating such awareness. He said Indian Missions in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are also being involved for creating awareness on MGPSY.
According to him, the government has prepared information, education and communication materials in six languages —Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi and Telugu — to create awareness about MGPSY. Besides, the IEC material has been made available to service providers, Protector of Emigrants and Indian missions.
However, the minister maintained that MGPSY being a voluntary scheme, 90 persons have subscribed to it from April 2012 till January 28 this year. Ravi said the government is alert to respond promptly to the requests and appeals by Indian citizens in distress.
Provisions under the Indian Community Welfare Fund for payment of small fines and penalties for the release of Indian nationals in detention centres too are being utilised. More than 50 lakh Indians work in the ECR countries on temporary employment or contract visas predominantly in the construction, healthcare and household services sectors. Ravi has asked the Heads of Missions to proactively work on the implementation of MGPSY and said that this would greatly benefit the workers in these countries.
India and Saudi Arabia has recently signed a “landmark” agreement to protect the rights of Indian workers there and also agreed to form a joint committee to overcome obstacles in its implementation. However, the threat of repatriation still looms large over thousands of blue-collar workers across the Gulf.
The MGPSY scheme was originally launched as Pension and Life Insurance Fund, but was soon renamed. It is a voluntary scheme overseas Indian migrant workers who are working or plan to work in countries where ECR is applicable. Under the scheme, if a subscriber contributes Rs.5,000 each year — Rs1,000 towards the National Pension System (NPS) Lite and Rs4,000 towards the UTI Monthly Income Scheme (MIS) — the government puts inRs1,900. Of this amount, Rs1,000 goes for NPS and Rs900 for MIS. The latter is used for two purposes: old age pension and for the person’s return and resettlement.
In addition, every subscriber gets free insurance cover from Life Insurance Corp of India, which pays Rs30,000 in case of natural death, Rs75,000 in case of death or total permanent disability due to an accident, and Rs37,500 for total partial disability due to an accident. The MOIA nominated Bank of Baroda and the State Bank of Travancore as its banking partner for the MGPSY scheme. NRI groups have argued that two banks are not enough to successfully implement the programme.
Further, NRI groups say that rules of the ministry were very strict. For example, it identified only four districts in Kerala where the scheme could be implemented and only two branches would be allotted per district. To add to that the bank had to register with the National Securities Depository Limited and also authenticate the digital signatures of the bank officer etc. The process is laborious.
Others have said that the subscription to the scheme is very expensive. To send Rs1,000 to this scheme one has to spend at least Rs150 each month by way of commuting to the bank etc, it’s a non-viable proposition. According to K V Shamsudheen, Chairman, Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, the only solution would be to entrust all banks with the facility to open NRE/NRO accounts to join in MGPSY scheme. Auto debit from the account-holder would ensure timely savings.
In April 2013, the then-secretary of MOIA had been quoted as saying that “the ministry also plans to increase the number of service providers, such as banks or aggregators affiliated to regulators.
Shamsudheen has argued in media statements that the MGPSY scheme, like the Kerala model, should also cover expatriates with lower income instead of limiting it to the ECR category.