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"GULF NRIs and Pravasi Bharatiya Divas" A Review by Khaja Anwar

On 9th January 1915, the greatest NRI (Non Resident Indian) of this century came back home with a noble vision, a special mission and determination. Over period of time he proved to be the greatest Indian for India – started the Non violent freedom struggle which resulted into India’s Independence in 1947. This incredible NRI was none other than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Father of the Nation.  

This historical date was almost forgotten by the Indian Citizens and many historians too but relived in 2002 when Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee the Prime Minister of India declared the 9th January as the NRIs day (Pravasi Bharatiya Divas) and further announced to celebrate it every year to unite global Indian Diaspora. 

On 9th January 2003 people of Indian origin from 62 countries got together to create a global vision at the First Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations where almost 2000 NRIs participated.  

This year, at the second annual celebrations, there were happenings and implementations – Gulf NRIs who are over 3.5 million in number, were in focus. The Indians in the Gulf who are skilled and semi skilled contract employees constitute almost the 70% of the total Gulf Indian Diaspora. Hence, it accounted to be significant for the World’s largest Indian Diaspora in this single region. Saudi Arab consists of the World’s largest NRI population at 1.6 million and USA stands at second place with 1.55 Million Indians.

If we look at demographic classification – The state of Kerala constitutes the largest share atleast in the GCC region. The Prime Minister of India at the inaugural address on Pravasi Bharatiya this year applauded the contributions to the National economy by the NRIs specifically appreciated the state of Kerala whose 2.5 million Diaspora alone contributed the 50% of $ 102 Billion of foreign exchange reserves that India enjoys as of December 2003. The Prime Minister further added “Thanks to my NRIs family whose contributions helping us to repay back our loans to the World Bank and we have the privilege of lending to other nations too”. There are over 22 million Indians living outside India.  

GULF NRIs AND THEIR ISSUES AT PRAVASI BHARATIYA:

Thanks to Shri LM Sanghvi the Chairman of Indian Diaspora High level  committee who is an ex Ambassador to U.K. in addition to many other high grade international designations – took the initiative, made a research and submitted his recommendations to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. This unique celebrations and with a global vision is the result of Sanghvi’s recommendations which provided the NRIs a platform from where you voice your issues, talk about the investments, discuss the possibilities of making India a developed Nation and participate in India 2020 vision programme and Home-Coming to many non gulf NRIs to look back home who rarely visit India.

Last year Shri Vajpayee announced two major issues - Dual Citizenship and Insurance Scheme to the overseas contract workers.

Dual Citizenship: The right of dual citizenship raised a good amount of excitement among the World NRIs, but made no appeal to the World’s largest NRI community in the Gulf. This facility makes no sense as none of the GCC countries provide the expatriates with immigration or citizenship facility. After passing through a big exercise with its foreign counterparts the Government was to implement the Dual Citizenship status for 16 countries effective from November 2003. Other countries could not accept this proposal from Indian Government due to their existing non flexible immigration laws.

Insurance Scheme for Gulf NRIs:  How important is this Scheme for the Gulf NRIs? Does it really mean anything? Yes, it is a good security for the Overseas Workers. Since we are a community with 70% surviving with below $ 400 per month income, The insurance scheme is essential for us. Atleast over 80% of the NRIs in Gulf do not have any Insurance policies.

This scheme came into effect from 25th December 2003 as a gift to the Gulf NRIs from the Prime Minister on the occasion of his 79th Birthday. Primarily, New India Assurance Company is given the contract and the rights to start issuing the policies. The premium per annum is a nominal sum of Rs. 1,000-2,000 with the maturity clauses described such as in case of death overseas, accidents or partially handicapped etc. etc.  And is made compulsory for all the Indians who are leaving on employment contracts to foreign countries.

The important point raised at the Gulf NRIs session at the PBD celebrations this year was “Why this Insurance scheme applicable to only the new comers”? Shri Vinod Khanna the Minister of State for External Affairs assured to make a study on it and will come out with some solution.

WHAT GULF NRIs GOT THIS YEAR?

In 1977 the then Foreign Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave a special gift to NRIs by relaxing the multiple window procedures to obtain a passport within 40 days from the date of application which used to take atleast 6-8 months. In result, it eased the unemployment burden on the nation and created a good amount of relief among the citizens who were eyeing for the Jobs in Gulf over the start of Oil Boom. This wise decision benefited both the Citizens and the Government from all angles – and its outcome is a history and whole World is witnessing it currently.

Almost 17 years now from the date of any Sop given to the NRIs. During this long span of almost two decades the NRIs were not given any sops nor considered the Gulf NRI issues seriously. This year, the same dynamic bachelor who is proved to be one of the most successful Prime Ministers of India gifted the Gulf NRIs once again by approving two of the Core issues.

IDEAS – the Indian Doctors Engineers and Architects Society founded in 2001 which transformed into the World’s largest network of Indian Professionals abroad in a very short span started with a determined objectives of Gulf NRI issues. IDEAS kept knocking the doors consistently at all levels and through various means.

A submission of memorandum in 2001 to the Indian Consul General Shri Syed Akbaruddin who played a very important role by recommending the plight of Gulf NRIs to the Ministry of External Affairs. A representation by IDEAS delegate at state level to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Shri Chandra Babu Naidu in 2001 followed by a huge press conference in Hyderabad through which The Gulf NRI issues hit headlines in more than 100 newspapers across the nation for the first time in history. IDEAS high level committee meetings, correspondence and discussions with the Chairman Diaspora Committee Shri LM Sanghvi and Shri JC Sharma the Secretary in charge for PBD in 2002 & 2003. The focus and voices of Gulf NRI issues once again rose at the IDEAS NRIs convention and Festival 2003 at Hyderabad which was organized for the first time by an NGO from the Gulf. The submission of petition to Shri Vinod Khanna the minister of state for external affairs during his visit to Jeddah in September 2003 – Our hopes liven up when Shri Khanna answered the questions and interacted with over 100 IDEAS professional members at the “Meet Indian Intellectuals Program” which was specially conducted to address the Gulf NRIs core issues.

Thanks to Shri Vinod Khanna who heads the NRIs portfolio also in the Ministry of Foreign affairs took the Indian Overseas Workers issues very seriously, recommended and endorsed it. He proved to be the “DAYAVAN” in real for Gulf NRIs.

RESERVATION QUOTA IN COLLEGES FOR GULF NRIs: 

The Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee while addressing to over 1500 Indian Diaspora at the Second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas made a history for Gulf NRIs once again by announcing “We offer a reservation quota of one third of 15% supernumerary seats in all the educational institutions for all the NRIs”.

            This facility is effective from when? There is a big question mark as there are only 4 months left over for

            the beginning of new academic year that is 2004-2005. This question was raised by the panelist representing

            Indian Diaspora of Saudi Arabia at the Gulf NRIs session. The answer is we have to follow up and be in           

            touch with the Indian Embassies and the Consulates to know the exact requisites.

 THE ABOLITION OF SPECIAL NRI FEE AT THE PROFESSIONAL COLLEGES:

            By adding to the above announcement Shri Vajpayee felt pleased to announce one more very important Sop

-         “From now on the NRIs from Gulf and South East Asian Countries need not have to pay a special

NRI fee for admissions into the professional colleges in India”.

What is the Special NRI fee? The NRI students who apply for the admission into private professional colleges had to pay a special NRI fee that was regulated and described by the Government of India in late 80s. This capitation fee or the tuition fee is 5-10 times more than that of what the local Indians pay.

Well, this announcement does not mean that we Gulf NRIs need not have to pay anything – we will have to pay the regular normal fee on par with the local residents. This was the core issue which voiced over last 10 years and the people who mostly suffered due to this regulation were the poor and middle class Gulf NRIs. This valuable sop itself solves another Gulf NRIs major concern --

DOMICILE REGULATION:           Many states in India have the domicile regulation which labels you as a non domicile if a student have schooled last three consecutive years outside the state or the country – Over 90% of the parents in the Gulf planned or planning to admit their children in India from 9th Standard in order to avoid the incredibly high NRI capitation fee which is applicable when you are a Non Domicile – and some Medical colleges in South India take from 25 to 35 Lakh Rupees for one seat. Whereas it costs only 7 Lakh rupees to a local resident.

With this historical gift from the Prime Minister, the regulation of Domicile does not mean anything to the Gulf NRIs. Whether your children do schooling in India or Abroad, and if you are planning to admit your wards in private professional colleges – pay only the normal regular fees that are described for the local residents.

  OTHER SOPS:

-         Prime Minister allots Rs. 25 Crores to set up NRIs Bhavan (Pravasi Bharatiya Bhavan) at New Delhi.

-         NRIs can carry a Laptop (Computer) to India without paying any customs.

-         An Individual can remit upto $25,000 abroad, no questions asked. Previously the slab was upto $5,000.

-         Corporates can make overseas investments upto 100% of net worth.

GULF NRIs REPRESENTATION AT THE SECOND PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS:

Gulf is the single largest region for the Indian Diaspora with 3.5 million NRIs. And Saudi Arabia houses the World’s largest NRI community with 1.6 Million, just a half million more than that of United States of America.

But the pity is, the lowest turn out was from this largest region. Total delegates participated at this second PBD were over 1200 – a less number compared to the last year. Out of these 1200 delegates, there were only 40 odd delegates from the gulf countries which represent 3.5 million Indians and only four from the world’s largest NRIs community that is Saudi Arabia. The maximum participants were from U.S.A.

There were around 40 panelists and speakers chosen globally by the Ministry of External Affairs of India to speak and present various issues, proposals and topics.  Out of which there were four panelists from the Gulf including one from Saudi Arabia.

IDEAS founder director Khaja Quadeer Anwar who is also the Founder Chairman of NRIs convention and festival 2003 was chosen to present the Gulf NRI issues at the second pravasi bharatiya divas. This special session on NRIs in the Gulf proved to be fruitful as it was chaired by Shri Vinod Khanna.

Khaja Anwar thanked and appreciated the efforts of Shri LM Sanghvi, JC Sharma and Vinod Khanna for working out the facilities for the Gulf NRIs in his address. Before leaving for New Delhi, IDEAS had organized an open forum on Gulf NRI issues to discuss and highlight the issues at the same time a message forum and opinion poll was conducted on its widely popular web portal (www.ideas-gulf.com) on which it received more than 2000 responses and suggestions.

IDEAS director compiled the most common issues from these responses, highlighted them and made a demand to the government. 

The Presentation that IDEAS director made was titled “WHAT IS HAUNTING GULF NRIs”? 

     Major Gulf NRI Issues voiced over at this session:

       Waiving off the Non Domicility regulation for Overseas Contract Employees.

       Reservation Quota in Jobs for the Repatriated OCE’s from GULF countries. 

       Revision of age limits for the Repatriated OCE’s from the Gulf.

   Reservation Quota in Schools/Colleges for the OCE Wards. 

       NRIs Ministry in the States which has a Diaspora of more than 1 Million.

       Reservation of MLA and MP Constituencies in the states where there is a Diaspora of more than 1 Million.  

          Nomination of atleast one NRI MP for Rajya Sabha.

          NRIs Housing Corporations in the States.

          Welfare Schemes for Overseas Contract Employees. 

          Pension Schemes for the OCEs.

          Voting Rights for the NRIs.

FORMATION OF PRAVASI JANATA PARTY (PJP)

Further to this Mr. Khaja Anwar – declared and announced that – “If the Government does not address to the above issues seriously, we have a big demand from NRIs that we float a party called “Pravasi Janata Party” and send the NRI representatives to the State Assemblies and to the Parliament.” This idea was much applauded by both the Indian press and NRIs. Even the NRIs from USA appreciated this tool which will work at all levels and came forward to support this concept.

While summing up this session – Shri Vonod Khanna who chaired this panel gave the following remarks:

-         The Pension Scheme for Gulf NRIs is a core issue - it will be debated seriously at all levels.

-         Voting Rights for the NRIs is a necessity; I will make a recommendation to form a committee which will comprise both Government and NRI delegates to work out its mechanism.

-         About the formation of PRAVASI JANAT PARTY, it’s a good threat to us, You are welcome to start this party and we wish it good luck and look forward for their joining N.D.A.

-         About nomination of NRI MP to Rajya Sabha, I will recommend this option which is a noble idea and why not, our prime minister posses 12 nominations for the Upper House and reserving one nomination for the NRIs is not difficult.

-         About the NRI Ministries, it is a valid point – we should have the relevant ministry where atleast there is Diaspora of more than one million – I will recommend it.                                                    

            PRESIDENT’S INTERACTIVE MEET WITH THE NRIs:

On the last day of three day pravasi bharatiya celebrations, Shri A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the President of India hosted a tea party for NRIs at the lush green historical Mughal Gardens at presidential palace. The Nuclear Scientist turned president who is also a bachelor, is very famous for his simplicity and the guest NRIs were overwhelmed by his messages and answers.

One of the senior NRI from USA asked him, Sir! How and When we can eradicate the corruption fully from India? -  His highness replied, “If we add 10 more laws also it is difficult to remove corruption, but, there are only three people who can help in removing it – and – The one is Father, the second is Mother and the third one is the Teacher.” It is true, a big sound of applause from NRIs on this message.

When Khaja Anwar the Founder Director of IDEAS who was a panelist in Gulf NRI sessions asked informed him. “Your highness, we in Saudi Arabia are the largest NRI community in the World, and we invite you to Kingdom to perform Hajj or Umrah”. His reply was, “I will come to perform Hajj as an ordinary man, and I am saving money from my salary and will come when I save enough for the expenses required for the pilgrimage”. We Love you Mr. President, resounding chants from all the NRIs who were present there. 

“You should work hard for the country itself in which you are living, work to keep India’s good image alive, you are the Ambassadors of our country, do the best and at the same time do not forget the poor brethren back home” Shri Abdul Kalam said while addressing.

While answering to one of the Women NRI, he said “We are working out to implement 33% reservation for women in the parliament”, on this Mr. Khaja Anwar demanded “We NRIs should have 10% seats in Parliament” – Mr. President smiled at it and did not reply anything, but a roar of applause from NRI delegates present there meted this demand. 

HIGHLIGHTS / SIDELIGHTS OF SECOND PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS

-           Total Participants                 : Around 1200 from 36 different countries.

-           From Gulf                               : Over 40 delegates

-           From KSA                               : 4 Delegates

-           Panelists & Speakers          : 40

-           Panelists from the Gulf        : 4

-           Panelist from KSA                 : Khaja Quadeer Anwar on Gulf NRI issues

-           Venues                                     : Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium

                                                                : Vigyan Bhavan

                                                                : Talkatora Indoor Stadium

- No. of Volunteers                              : Over 600

-Media Center                                      : Well Equipped with 60 computer stations

-Audio Visual Presentations             : Power Point Presentation on Gulf NRI

                                                                  issues by Khaja Anwar

: Screening of Animated Documentary Film on Gulf NRIs-

  Past, Present and Future titles “Ghar Ka Na Ghat Ka”  Produced by IDEAS.

-           Entertainment Programmes        :

Cultural Programme and Musical Concert by

-         Annu Malik, Sonu Nigam, Hari Haran, Shekar Suman, Isha Koppikar and Mansi.

-         A Fusion Ballet by NRIs group from Mauritius

-         Performance by USA NRI pop singer Vicky of “CHUTNEY” fame. 

SHRINGAR – A Fashion show directed by Muzaffar Ali (The Director of Hindi Classical “Umrao Jaan”)-

The theme of the fashion show was ‘Various Eras of fashions in India from the Mughal Era to the current Era”.  This event was the most expensive and a hard work of 6 months. But due to the intensity of classical fillers, it did not appeal the audience much and over half of the audience started leaving the venue from middle of the program. 

SAMMAN AWARDS: 

Twelve NRIs were honored with this prestigious award. But the criterion for nomination and selection is not open and is not clear. They are all handpicked by the influential. The only one who deserved a Samman was Late Mrs. Kalpana Chawla the NRI Astronaut who died last year due to the failure of space shuttle. Her husband received it to honour the dead.

By: YaHind Staff Reporter


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