Gulf’s Indian Connect

Gulf’s Indian Connect

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Demands that Gulf Indians are waiting to get fulfilled by Indian government

By Mritunjay Kumar 

Indian Diaspora: Is Gulf Boom withering?

Gulf’s historical connection to India goes back to as early as BC. The spices grown in the South India always attracted the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and later all colonial powers through the centuries. The people in India also migrated to neighboring countries like Ceylon, Persia, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore besides other places in search of mostly work or business more than a century ago. In the pre-independence era, Indians migrated to major foreign cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait for work and studies. The educated youth left their home state in increasing numbers to seek opportunities in the fast industrializing Gulf after the independence.

First Choice

But from the last decades of 20th century, the first destination of choice for Indians has been the Gulf. Majority of NRIs from South India are today in Gulf region. South Indians’ Gulf dream changed the economy, society and culture of the India to a large extent. The rise and fall of the dream is also the story of India today. Favouring the popularity of Indians in Gulf, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, primarily focuses on Gulf people as it claims highest number of NRIs’ in Gulf countries.

Keralites’ in Gulf

Prominent NRI entreprenures and businessmen M A Yousuf Ali, P Mohamed Ali, B R Shetty, P N C Menon are today role models of young entrepreneurs, as they are rebuilding Kerala, despite the infrastructure and other bottle necks prevalent in the state. Though returning NRIs are increasing, there is still migration from the state to these countries continues. Only quality and quantity of the flow have changed.

NRIs contribution by way of total remittance of more than Rs 50,000 crore to Kerala is substantial and pays a critical role in the state’s economy over the last few decades. This is estimated to be one- third of GDP and constitutes one fourth of bank deposits in the state. This is only a moderate estimate as the money may flow in through unofficial channels also. Fifteen people of Indian origin are always selected for the Pravasi Samman awards, of which mostly are prominent South Indians from the Gulf region.

Future Ahead

After NDA’s victory in 2014 Lok Sabha election, many Pravasi Indians in Gulf has pushed their demands in the ruling party agendas. They want to put forward on a range of problems and unfulfilled promises made by the authorities to expatriates over the years. But now political parties know it very well that to reach the majority, PM Narendra Modi is popular among Indian diaspora and leaving no stone unturned to keep NRIs happy and satisfied. After all they are one of the reasons for booming economy of India.

The current government has emphasised the importance of skills development in youth before their migration. All these strategy will help to pertain better future for India. NRIs from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are the key source for Indian GDP stability.

Issues Galore

Some of the key issues that came up after discussion with Gulf Indians and which sought immediate attention are:

Pre-counseling of Migrants

The migrants’ problems, in fact starts even before they leave the shore as many are not well informed about the opportunities or the job finally they end up. This is mainly because of the unscrupulous recruitment agents and partly due to migrants’ keen desire to cross the seas in search of dream jobs with their limited exposure to outside world. As such, the need for pre-counseling and skill development of immigrants are now strongly felt by the government agencies. This will considerably reduce the problems likely to face them in later stage.

Returning NRIs

If proper counseling and skill training is a must for those who seek migration to Gulf region, it is equally necessary for them to have proper advise and help when they re- turn to settle down back home after years of toil in foreign soil . Otherwise, this can create social and other problems.

Carrying Gold

There is an urgent need to review the government restrictions on bringing precious metals like gold to the country. This should be on the based on weight rather than on highly fluctuating prices of the metals.

Embassy’s Role

The Embassies in the Gulf region generally limits their activities mainly to renewal of passports and attestation of certificates. They are not sensitive enough or actively involved in immigrants’ range of issues and concerns. Instead of officials on deputation, qualified and professional staff needs to be employed to handle legal, labour and other domestic issues.

Air Travel

Air India‘s approaches and attitudes, especially to the NRIs in Gulf is a cause of constant conflict over a period. Cancellation of flights, pilots’ strike during busy season, overcharging and lack of adequate service are constant issues faced by them over years. The state government has mooted the idea of its own Airlines recently to tackle the permanent problem. The response to the proposal from NRIs is overwhelming.

NRIs in Jail

NRIs who are in jail for even minor offences or even silliest reasons need immediate legal help. Most of them are victims of unscrupulous recruiters. Legal, financial and other services should be extended to them to return home safely. The welfare fund lying idle with Embassies should be properly used to help these unfortunate people.

Welfare Fund

The age limit for becoming a member of Pravasi Welfare Fund needs to be raised to 60, as promised by the Kerala government. The age limit is not a must, some pointed out. The government is considering extending the contributory pension scheme for expatriate workers in the entire Gulf region with the government chipping in 50% of the amount for men and 100% for women. The scheme will offer regular pension for expatriates once they return home. There is also a demand for insurance cover for them.

Census of Indians in the Gulf

The government has no proper statistics of number NRIs in the Gulf region. Immediate efforts need to be made to fill this gap which is a must for addressing their problems.

Investment

NRIs are prepared to invest in the India is proved by heavy investments made by them in different sectors of the economy in recent years. The educated and experienced professionals are ready with projects once the Government brings its acts together. Like in Kerala, about 40% of House boats in the backwaters are owned by Gulf returns or NRK’s.

Authorities’ lip service

Many of the promises made by the Government authorities during the Indian Overseas meets or when they visit Gulf counties are not followed up or implemented. This situation has created strong resentment and frustrations among most pravasis.

Mritunjay Kumar  is Senior Sub Editor of NGI.

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Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor