New Delhi, January 08: IUML President and Minister for state for Railways Mr. E. Ahamed has stated that Dreadful situation created by unscrupulous elements to Indians seeking job through ‘free visa’ facility in Saudi Arabia is needed urgent attention and the problem should be solved immediately. He was delivering keynote address at Gulf session of the Pravasi Bharatiya divas conference held at Vigyan Bhavan which was presided over by Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian affairs, and attended by important Pravasi representatives from Gulf region.
Some unscrupulous travel agents in India, in connivance with certain unscrupulous sponsors in Saudi Arabia, play mischief when these people reach Saudi on free visas and change them into job visa – He said.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2011
(7-9 January 2011, New Delhi)
Session on Gulf
Address by Hon’ble Mr. E Ahamed, Minister of State for Railways and President IUML
Chairman of this Session and my dear colleague Hon’ble Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Shri Vayalar Ravi ji,
My friends on the dais Yusuff Ali Saheb, Shri C.K. Menon, and Shri Ravi Pillai.
Mr. Ram Buxani, President, International Traders Limited, UAE
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention and address the session on the Gulf. I have been privileged to address PIOs from the Gulf in previous years as well, and I believe that through these dedicated regional sessions we have been able to create an effective and working channel of communication. This allows us to interact and share our perspectives, raise our concerns and evolve solutions to issues in a mutually beneficial manner.
India and the gulf region have shared a special bond extending over centuries deriving from geographical proximity and common civilisational base. This has led to strong economic and cultural interaction over the years, and today a multidimensional relationship exists between both sides, founded on mutual understanding and trust.
Today, India depends on the oil resources of the Gulf for its economic growth, while the bilateral engagement in areas such as education and skill development and cultural interaction are driving the relationship as well. Nearly 60% of our crude oil requirement is met from this region which plays a crucial role in our energy security. New emphasis on energy diplomacy and investment partnership is the highlight of the year. Efforts are going on to set up joint ventures in downstream petrochemicals, fertilizer and energy intensive industries.
The bilateral relationship is further enriched by the presence of a large number of Indians in the Gulf countries who have found employment and livelihood there. A welcoming environment greets them and the opportunities for their personal development are large. The region collectively hosts the largest expatriate Indian community at around 5-6 million with remittances estimated around US$ 30 billion per annum. In most cases, they are the largest such group from any country working in the respective countries, and the Gulf region is home to the largest numbers of Indians overseas. I cannot overemphasise the fact that the overseas Indian community in the Gulf plays a significant role in the economies of both India and the countries where it is based.
Indians in the Gulf have proved themselves to be committed to both sides, earning high respect from both sides for their hard work, their extraordinary contributions, and their peaceful and law-abiding manners. Their presence in large numbers across the region has helped to add skills and talents to the local workforce, and they have emerged as valuable members of the local communities, integrating well with local cultures.
At the same time, they are remitting significant amounts to support families back home and in many cases, many Indian communities or villages are dependent on their earnings. They have transformed the economic environment of their home states, adding considerably to both economic and social development in their particular regions of origin.
Today, the Gulf region is one of the most economically dynamic and prosperous regions of the world. It enjoys a surplus of investible funds and high incomes. According to the IMF, the region is slated to return strongly to growth. While higher oil prices will raise incomes, prudent fiscal policies too have helped the economies to grow. The governments of many of the Gulf countries are dedicating themselves to build social and physical infrastructure in a manner that will optimize their future growth potential. Special economic zones, knowledge cities, hi-tech zones, manufacturing regions, etc are being constructed across the Gulf. These are inviting high investments, setting the pace for renewed dynamism of their economies.
I am proud to say that India and GCC countries have significantly enhanced high level exchanges in recent past leading to better understanding.
Hon’ble Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia from February 27 to March 1, 2010 at the invitation of Khadimul Haramain H.M. King Abdullah during which several agreements including Riyadh Declaration were signed. PM’s visit was a great success.
Another historical State visit was by Hon’ble President of India to the UAE in November 2010. Many such visits at higher levels enhanced bilateral relationship also.
It is heartening that so many Indians are involved in this effort at every level, from highly skilled workers to professionals and entrepreneurs. India is justifiably proud of the immense achievements of the Indian community in the Gulf.
India’s economic relations with the Gulf will continue to grow and derive high benefits from the Indian population based there. Already UAE is India’s largest destination for exports of goods and second largest source of imports, while the bilateral exchange of goods with the Gulf as a whole was close to $93 billion in 2009-10. UAE has emerged as our largest trading partner with trade at around US$ 45 billion. Bilateral investments too are expanding. As India continues on its reform process, such FDI will be further attracted to key sectors such as infrastructure, education, healthcare, and others. The Gulf with its large reserves and proximity to India is well-positioned to undertake a far greater role in India’s economic progress, which will be of mutual advantage to both sides.
As bilateral engagement grows, we can foresee greater emigration by Indian workers to the Gulf. The government has instituted a number of measures for the welfare of workers, taking into account the suggestions made at the PBD conventions earlier. The Indian Council of Overseas Employment has been set up to look into issues concerning workers. Emigration is being streamlined through electronic procedures. Labour agreements are being instituted. MoUs on labour have been signed with several Gulf countries including Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. Training is being given to emigrants, while returning workers are also re-trained. A workers’ helpline has been initiated for recourse for workers in distress. The Welfare Fund has been established to enable workers to be repatriated in cases of problems. Workers are also required to take insurance before proceeding on work overseas. Further, cooperation and information sharing is being conducted with Gulf countries on a regular basis.
The other significant aspect of the Indian presence is in regard to the profile of the Indian community. As against 80-85% of our community being blue collar workers and professionals being negligible twenty years ago, today, blue collar workers are estimated to comprise around 68% of the Indian community, with 20 per cent being professionals and their family members.
With all these significant initiatives, the government is taking care to facilitate welfare of workers and address overseas employment challenges. Many state governments have also set up special boards to assist workers and to help returning workers find alternative livelihoods.
I may also mention that many of the issues concerning the welfare of Indian community, nearly 5-6 million, have been addressed to by the Government of India through two Ministries – Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and another the Ministry of External Affairs. The first effort of the Ministry of External Affairs in the early years of UPA-1 Government was to arrange Open House discussion in our Missions and it was very much an innovative step. Now, the Indian community and our Missions in the Gulf area are having constant touch and close interaction. There are lot of legal issues faced by our workers which need to be resolved. Government of India has been taking up these issues during interactions with the respective governments, but every time some new problem will come up, for example in Saudi Arabia there are problems of the labourers who are going over there on ‘free visa’. The system of ‘free visa’ was to help Indians seeking suitable jobs. It is now turned out to be a draconian procedure with bitter experience which put the bonafide labourers to great hardship and difficulties. Some unscrupulous travel agents in India, in connivance with certain unscrupulous sponsors in Saudi Arabia, play mischief when these people reach Saudi on free visas and change them into job visa. Certain regulations give right to the sponsors in Saudi Arabia, when any difference between the sponsor and labourer comes up, to report that the employee has run away with the result the employee is eventually put in the category of ‘Ghuroob’ – means ‘run away’ - and this will help the unscrupulous sponsors to escape from the responsibility of providing legal benefit to the person who has been granted free visa by the sponsors. These poor labourers who go there by spending huge money with free visa facility will ultimately be taken into custody and be deported back with a stamp on their Passports barring re-entry into the Saudi Arabia. In a way, these actions of some unscrupulous agents in India in connivance with undesirable elements may tantamount to denial of human rights. I am given to understand that thousands of people in Saudi Arabia face this dreadful situation because of the unscrupulous sponsors and agents. I am sure, our Missions in Saudi Arabia and also the Government of India, who are seized of the matter, would step in to take urgent remedial actions to resolve this condemnable situation thereby saving the poor workers from the clutches of these elements. It is felt absolutely necessary that some conditions are to be included in the Employment Contract for those who seek free visa.
India will also play a positive role to maintain peaceful atmosphere in the whole of Gulf. Indian economy is also interlinked with Gulf economy. Even UN sanctions against Iran will affect the economy of some of the Gulf countries adversely. It is reported that 8000 Iranian companies are working in UAE and economic imbalances of these firms will affect the economic stability of the Gulf and to some extent our country also.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the government values the suggestions made by overseas Indians in the Gulf such as yourselves and has acted according to your felt needs in many cases. We look forward to further partnerships with you and to your ideas and thoughts on strengthening India’s relations with the Gulf countries.
Wishing you all a pleasant stay in Delhi. Thank you, Jai Hind.