PBD showed that India does care for NRIs
Jan 17, 2007 - 8:50:03 AM

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - is the big NRI show. For just $250, the price of a family dinner in the US, NRIs can come real close to the top leaders of India. They can get to know their thoughts on NRIs and enjoy the compliments. They also voice their concerns and extract promises from the government to look into them. They come to say: 'I love my India!' And PBD tells them: 'India cares!'

Basking in the achievement of successfully lobbying for the Indo-US nuclear deal, the highest number among the 1,200 delegates came from the US. And among the 15 NRI Awards by the Indian government, the highest number also went to the US. The Indian Americans were heartily congratulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his inaugural speech.

The four million Gulf NRIs had also something to cheer about. They send back almost half of all the $23 billion in remittances annually and so they need much more attention. Minister for Overseas Indian Vyalar Ravi, who hails from Kerala, the state that has sent a good number of its citizens to the Gulf, has given them the attention they have been clamouring for so long.

It was announced that a labour pact has been signed with the United Arab Emirates for the protection and welfare for Indian workers and similar pacts are expected with Kuwait, Bahrain and other Middle East countries besides Malaysia.

The labour pact will ease some major problems of NRI workers who go to the Gulf after paying hefty sums to recruiting 'agents'. On arrival, their sponsors, who obtain their visas, often take away their passports and they are told to sign some papers in Arabic that they cannot read. Now the NRIs are at the mercy of their sponsors for wages and salaries, living conditions, healthcare and leave. This pact will ease these hardships.

The other major problem of Gulf NRIs is the high airfares. When an NRI, his wife and two children come for a holiday in India, they spend a very big part of their earnings. With the current 'open skies' policies favoured by India, these airfares should come down significantly but they haven't. This demand is on the minister's priority list.

NRIs in Europe also benefited as India has signed a Social Security Agreement exempting Indians working in Belgium on a contract of up to 60 months from making contributions in the host country. Similar agreements are proposed for the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Norway. All of them have significant Indian population to ensure protection of their interests.

To help NRIs move up the ladder from unskilled and semi-skilled to qualified workers, the Central Council for Promotion of Overseas Employment was announced to promote overseas employment. From this year onwards, it would aim to train 50,000 workers in different trades every year who want to go abroad for employment. An NRI centre has been established in Dubai to work in tandem with the Indian missions. A similar centre called the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre is due to be set up in New Delhi to cater for all NRIs.

The PBD saw a few benefits announced for the 90,000-odd NRIs who hold Overseas Citizenship of India -. The three new benefits are: parity with Indians on inter-country adoption, parity in domestic air fares and parity in entry fees for national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The Indian Government is also considering NRI doctors to practice in India and setting up a university for NRIs especially for engineering and management studies. India would amend laws to allow Indian passport holders living overseas the right to vote. Currently, only passport holders resident in India can vote.

NRIs want admissions for medicine, engineering and management courses. One solution is to provide more seats and to charge them higher fees than Indians but the NRIs cannot afford these high fees of up to Rs.3-4 million. So an NRI University has been proposed and accepted in principle by the Indian government. Now its location and other logistics are being worked out.

After PBD, many participants moved to their home states for local NRI meetings as in Gujarat and Bihar. When they return home, these delegates will talk about how they listened to almost all the top national leaders of India, interacted with top Indian CEOs and enjoyed cultural events by India's outstanding artistes. These face-to-face encounters become their fondest memories demonstrating that India does care.


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