Utilize grace period, Indians told

Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has assured Indian community members in Saudi Arabia that his ministry will look into their problems whether related to education or job or welfare and take up the issues with the authorities concerned in both countries.







L. Ramnarayan and Shams Ahsan

Saudi Gazette



JEDDAH – Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has assured Indian community members in Saudi Arabia that his ministry will look into their problems whether related to education or job or welfare and take up the issues with the authorities concerned in both countries.



In a wide-ranging interview with Saudi Gazette here on Monday, he urged undocumented Indian workers to utilize the three-month grace period and rectify their status. “Tomorrow we are meeting to discuss the modalities on how best to utilize the grace period,” disclosed Indian Ambassador to the Kingdom Hamid Ali Rao, who was present during the interview.



“We are trying to put in place mechanisms which will assist people to make these changes possible during the grace period,” he said.



Thousands of undocumented Indian workers are in panic after the Saudi authorities started a crack down on labor and residency law violators.





The King intervened to grant a three-month grace period to such workers to rectify their status.

 

According to unofficial estimates, there are more than three million undocumented workers.



Minister Ravi, however, does not foresee an exodus of Indian workers in the wake of the Nitaqat program.



“It depends on the outcome of the whole exercise,” he said, alluding to the modalities being discussed by the two sides.



“We will use our good offices to help all people,” Ravi said, adding that workers have to respect the Saudi law.



T.K.A Nair, Adviser to Indian Prime Minister, who is part of the high-level delegation being led by Ravi, elaborated that the three-month grace period was to discuss and evolve modalities.



“The goodwill that we enjoy is the basis for the positive approach to the problems resulting from Nitaqat,” he said.



As regards cover-up businesses, which — according to independent estimates — involve about 30 percent of foreign workers, the minister said that the issue has not come to his notice. But he assured that the joint group would take it up.



The minister also pledged to look into the Huroob cases, as did Nair, while Ambassador Rao added that all cases have to be dealt within the framework of the local law.



Ravi also reiterated his ministry’s commitment to act tough on unscrupulous recruitment agents.



“When a complaint comes to us, we suspend the license of the agent and institute an inquiry. A case is also filed in the court on the basis of the inquiry in progress, and eventually if found guilty the license is canceled,” he said.



Desperate job seekers often fall prey to such agents who fleece them of money. As per the Emigration Act 1983, only those recruiting agents who are registered under the Act can conduct the business of recruitment for overseas employment. But many agents do this job on the sly.



However, on the problem relating to higher studies of children of expat workers in Saudi Arabia, Ravi said that so far no association or group has brought this up to his notice.



Doors are shut at most of the Saudi colleges and universities for children of expat workers. The Riyadh Declaration signed during the visit to Saudi Arabia by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010 directed the concerned authorities to prepare necessary programs for activating the role of the youth in the framework of Memorandum of Cooperation in the educational field signed between the two countries in 2006, and also providing all necessary facilities to their students studying in both countries. It also mandated the Saudi-India Joint Commission to continue a follow up on this issue.



Nair admitted that the absence of higher educational avenues for expat children was a genuine problem. “We assure you that the minister will flag it to the prime minister,” he said.



The minister was also receptive to the high tuition fees that NRIs have to pay back home.



As regards the community schools, the ambassador disclosed that he wanted to hire teachers from Kendriya Vidyalays. But the salary expectations of the teachers were too high, he said. “I wanted to give them the salary they wanted, but the implication of that on fee hike was so much that I dropped the idea,” Rao said.



Community schools run mostly by elected managing committees have inexpensive tuition fee structure, but they provide quality education. And so every academic year there is a huge rush for admission in these schools, many of which can’t admit all applicants because of the limited number of seats. The only way to increase the number of seats is either by expanding the infrastructure or hiring more buildings or going for tutoring in shifts.



The ambassador said that he had a very detailed discussion with the Education Minister on this issue. He also said that the elected managing committees (of the Embassy-controlled international schools) should have visionary plans that would help ease the situation, adding, there is a building crisis even for Saudi schools.



On a broader issue of Saudi-Indian relations and how much it is going to further strengthen in view of Riyadh’s Look East policy, Nair — who was part of the prime minister’s delegation in 2010 — said that visit to India by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah in 2006 and a follow up visit by Indian Prime Minister generated goodwill, resulting in the signing of Delhi Declaration and Riyadh Declaration.



“There has been a convergence of interest,” added Ambassador Rao, and brought to attention what he called a path-breaking visit to Saudi Arabia last year by Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony.



On the issue of renewable energy, Nair said that India is making all efforts in developing solar energy. “In the next few years you will see a big spurt in the production of energy through solar power,” he said, adding that there’s growing interest in wind energy, “after all we have a large coastline.”



The interview ended on an optimistic political note by Ravi, who expressed confidence that his Congress party will win the Karnataka assembly elections and also form the government at the center after the parliamentary polls next year. He, however, did not rule out the possibility of the emergence of a third front. But he hastened to add that Congress would form the government.



He also refused to be drawn into a debate on Modi-Nitish spat, saying it was an “internal quarrel.”



And he rounded off the interview with a quip that had its own message. “All Congress leaders look up to Rahul Gandhi as future prime minister.”