New Delhi: The annual meet of the Indian diaspora that starts on Wednesday in Chennai will discuss the economic slowdown, besides the usual topics of investment, philantropy and culture.
Some 115 non-resident Indians (NRIs) from 43 countries are expected to attend the three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention, the biggest congregation of people of Indian origin, or PIO, and NRIs.
A special session—on how overseas Indians are coping in the time of the financial crisis—has been “added (in the convention) because of its relevance”, said K. Mohandas, secretary, ministry of overseas Indian affairs.
The event, the seventh one in a row, is being organized by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs, industry lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry, or CII, and the Tamil Nadu government.
“We will focus on how the diaspora looks at the (economic slowdown) situation in the context of remittance investment,” Mohandas said.
There are at least 25 million Indians who live and work in some 110 countries. In 2006, they saved and sent home nearly $26 billion (Rs1.3 trillion today) , according to official data.
The convention, to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is being organized at a time when the government is preparing new guidelines on international migration to protect workers employed overseas.
The government is also seeking to deregulate the licensing process for recruitment agencies amid rising allegations of fraud and cases of human trafficking.
Experts say cases of fraud relating to migrant workers are rampant, especially in West Asia, where a majority of Indian workers head to work.They say the government must take stringent steps against fake recruitment firms instead of relaxing the regulationsin the interest of boostingremittances.
Many of these issues, they say, fail to get even a mention in events such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
“The government must advocate better regulation of these recruitment agencies. Cases of agents misleading the workers and promising benefits they will receive in destination countries is rampant,” says Debayani Kar, consultant, Migrant Forum in Asia-India, a non-profit group.
To highlight the concerns of Indian overseas workers, Migrant Forum, which has six Indian trade union and civil society groups as members, is organizing a parallel event in Chennai to champion the cause of migrant contractual labourers and their rights. It plans to take out a public march to the Chennai Convention Centre, one of the venues of the meet.
While India has signed agreements with countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to protect workers’ welfare and withBelgium to secure social security benefits, its bargaining power will improve onlywhen it reciprocates andoffers protection to migrantsworkers to India, mostly from Nepal and Bangladesh, says Kar.
“We caution the government against having double standards on those who come to India as migrants workers,” she said.