Riyadh, Apr 6: With top level talks planned between India and Saudi Arabia over the fallout of the Kingdom’s Nitaqat program, the Indian government is reportedly planning to provide free air tickets for thousands of “deserving workers” to go back home.
Oommen Chandy, chief minister of the southern Indian state of Kerala from where the majority of Indian workers in the Kingdom come, told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that the federal government in Delhi has responded to Kerala’s request to bear full ticker fares of expatriates in Saudi Arabia wishing to return to the state. He said Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had informed the state that the federal government would take care of the expenses.
A high-level delegation from New Delhi led by Ravi is set to visit Saudi Arabia later this month to hold talks with Saudi officials and help workers in distress.
“The dates of minister Ravi’s visit have not been finalized,” said Sibi George, deputy chief of the Indian mission, when asked about reports in a section of the Indian press.
He added that the Indian Embassy has “not received any formal communication from New Delhi about the issue of free air tickets for deserving workers to return to India.” “Any formal communication takes some time to reach the embassy,” he added.
He pointed out that “more than 6,000 Indian workers have approached the embassy for emergency travel documents so far.” This is in addition to thousands of workers who have contacted the Jeddah-based Indian Consulate for outpasses. The embassy, he said, was receiving several requests for it to provide these out passes in various cities of Saudi Arabia.
“In order to help Indian nationals in other cities who wish to apply for emergency travel certificates, it has been decided that their applications will be received by the embassy by post or courier,” said George. Emergency certificates will be issued only after the Saudi authorities agree to grant permission for the final exit of the applicants, he added. He pointed out that the emergency certificate form can be downloaded for free from the embassy’s website.
He said an application form for an emergency certificate has to be accompanied by a copy of the applicant’s passport, residency permit and any other document to establish the person’s identity as an Indian national. It may be forwarded to EC Section, Embassy of India, B-1 Diplomatic Quarter, PO Box 94387, Riyadh 11693, Saudi Arabia. Indian nationals need not visit the embassy premises to submit the applications for emergency certificates, he stressed.
Referring to the concerns raised by the Indian government over the fate of workers, a report released by the Ministry of Overseas Affairs said that Ravi will hold a meeting of ministers from nine states to discuss the issue. Terming the issue as “serious,” Ravi said he has directed the Indian Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao to do everything possible to help workers.
A delegation from the Indian state of Karnataka comprising K. Jayaprakash Hegde, MP, and U. T. Khader, MLA, are currently visiting Saudi Arabia. They held a meeting with the Indian ambassador here to discuss the issue of expatriates who are facing hardships. The Indian state of Kerala has the maximum number of workers in Saudi Arabia.
There are 6.5 million Indians in the Gulf, out of which close to 2.2 million are in Saudi Arabia. According to the World Bank, in 2012 Indians worldwide sent back remittances of $ 70 billion, with around 60 percent of it coming from those working in the Gulf. During 2011-12, the two-way trade between the two nations stood at about $ 37 billion. However, the trade surplus is in favor of Saudi Arabia because of crude oil exports to India.
Free tickets likely for Indian workers stranded in KSA