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Keynote address by Minister of State for External Affairs Smt. Preneet Kaur at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

January 09, 2013

Dr. M.K. Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayats & Social Welfare, Government of Kerala,
Shri Anto Antony, Hon’ble Member of Parliament,
Shri Mahen Utchanah, Chairman, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) International East,
Distinguished Guests,

It is indeed a matter of great pleasure for me to participate in today’s discussion on safe environment for overseas Indians. As Minister of State for External Affairs, I have always interacted with the Indian diaspora in all my visits abroad. I have found this to be an extremely important exercise because it gives me the opportunity to understand the issues concerning the Indian diaspora, which is, without any doubt, contributing immensely in the growth of their host countries all over the world. Today, the Indian diaspora, which is the second largest in the world, has a diversified global presence and is working tirelessly for the betterment of the economy of many countries which they call their home today. I am told that the diaspora is now estimated at over 20 million spread across 110 countries of the world. However, the high concentration is seen in some regions which include the Middle East, United States of America, Malaysia, South Africa and Europe.

With their enormous skill, grit and hard work, the members of Indian diaspora have very succeeded in their chosen profession. Government of India also recognises the importance of Indian diaspora as it has brought economic, political and strategic benefits to India as well. We can say that the Indian diaspora really constitutes a diverse global community representing different regions, languages, cultures and faiths. They are indeed a bridge between India and the host country.

Depending on the geo-economic opportunities available, the profile of the diaspora communities varies from region to region. On one hand, there are skilled and semi-skilled workforce like the contract workers in the Gulf region, and on the other hand, USA and Europe sustains a high presence of educated professionals of Indian origin including increasing number of technocrats. Members of the Indian diaspora have continuously played an important role in mobilising support for issues of vital concern to Indians in their host countries.

While the Indian diaspora contributes to our economy and spread our culture abroad, we should always remain conscious of their needs and concerns. There are several problems and challenges which have been brought to the notice of Government of India. I want to assure this august gathering that we had responded to them in the most effective manner. There are several problems faced by our community, for example, non-payment or under-payment of salary, false promises made by unscrupulous recruiting agents in India, low salary and substandard living conditions, refusal of their medical treatment by their employer, arbitrary changes in the terms of employment, problems of housemaids, etc.

The Government of India from time to time has taken several initiatives to create a safe environment for Indian community abroad. Some of the initiatives taken by the Government include establishment of a dedicated Community Welfare Wing, compulsory attestation of Service Agreements of all household workers, Open House sessions, free legal counselling assistance, provision of shelter to Indian women workers in distress, Labour Welfare Fund for needy workers, setting up of 24x7 helpline, Labour Welfare Fund to financially assist poor Indian workers, a new e-governance project for ‘e-migrate’ linking the passport system, immigration system and emigration clearance; Pension and Life Insurance Scheme for Indian workers abroad.

Here I would like to mention that it is not rare to come across Indians facing atrocity abroad. The Indian diaspora in the Middle East and Gulf region are mainly from the working class and the major issue faced by them pertains to contractual disputes with the recruiters. This is apparently because of lack of trade unions to protect the right of the immigrants. There are several cases in which these unskilled workers are subjected to difficult situation by employer in the form of holding back of passports, non-payment of salaries, etc Therefore, for the protection and welfare of the Indian workers abroad, the Government of India has signed MoUs on manpower with UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan and Malaysia. The Government has also created the Indian Community Welfare Fund which enables the Heads of the Missions to provide on site relief measure for the distressed Indian workers.

Another step in this direction by Government of India is pursuing a proactive policy to transform the emigration system and empower the emigrants through systemic interventions at the highest level. The Government has notified the Emigration (Amendment) Rules, 2009 revising the eligibility criteria of Recruiting Agents enhancing the recruiting capacity and increasing the security amount and service charges.

In addition, the Government has undertaken steps to deepen the engagement with the non-resident Indians and the persons of Indian origin. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is implementing the ‘e-migrate’ project that will provide end-to-end computerised solutions for all processes emigration system. This system will link all the given stakeholders on a common platform which will be used by the workers, offices of Protector of Emigrants, recruitment agencies, immigration officials, employers and Indian Missions abroad. Another initiative of the Government of India is the Pension and Life Insurance Scheme for Indian workers. I believe that this is being implemented on a pilot basis and soon it will be taken up in all the ECR (Emigration Clearance Required) countries and all over India. I am sure this scheme would be extremely beneficial to the workers.

An Overseas Workers Resource Centre (OWRC), with a 24X7 helpline supported by eight regional languages assists emigrants/emigrants intending to go abroad for employment to 17 notified ECR countries.

It is imperative to highlight that ‘bilateral cooperation initiative’ taken by the Government of India, with an objective to diversify the overseas destination base for the Indian workers (under which the government would be signing labour mobility partnership agreements with countries where employment opportunities are likely to emerge). Government of India has signed bilateral Social Security Agreements (SSA) with Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Norway, Finland, Canada, Japan, and Sweden. These agreements are being pursued with the developed countries to protect the social security interests of Indian professionals residing there.

It goes without saying that the various diaspora organisations play a critical role in maintaining a harmonious relation between several diverse groups in their home away from home. These organisations have filled the vacuum which would otherwise be difficult to fill. I am certain that the role played by such organisations will increase in the years to come as the diaspora population will increase and they would be involved in several new initiatives hitherto unknown to them.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the synergies created due to the efficient implementation of various schemes have definitely created an environment which is in the best interest of our diaspora. All our Missions play a very active role in interacting and resolving issues pertaining to the diaspora. I am certain that today’s deliberations would go a long way in providing useful inputs in making the working environment safer for the diaspora. I am looking forward to hear the view points of the distinguished panelists and thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share some thoughts on this very important issue.

Kochi,
January 09, 2012

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