The government of Uttar Pradesh is setting up NRI-centric units to help them reconnect with their roots
Uttar Pradesh (UP), India's largest and most populous state with a population of 200 million, set up an NRI department last year to look after the interests and welfare of overseas Indians hailing from the state. The objective was also to solve procedural delays in matters pertaining to them.
Madhukar Jetley, Advisor - NRI and Externally Aided Projects Department (with a minister of state rank), points out that the state is also the biggest source of Indian immigrants. Every year, about 240,000 citizens of UP migrate abroad for better opportunities, he says.
A large number of them take up employment in the Gulf. Unfortunately, many migrants from UP are unskilled and end up being exploited by intermediaries, who take advantage of their lack of knowledge right from the time they recruit them in their villages and towns. "We have set up NRI corporations all over the state to help potential migrants and NRIs (when they return home on holidays) and to ensure they are not harassed and exploited," says Jetley. "We also plan to open half a dozen migrant resource centres (MRCs) and will undertake skills development programmes for the benefit of potential migrants."
According to Jetley, one reason why migrants from the state end up being exploited and underpaid is because of their lack of skills. "We will train them at the MRCs, ensuring they are certified as carpenters, electricians, welders, tailors and plumbers," he notes. "This will ensure that they get the right jobs and are paid better compensation."
The NRI department will also identify the areas of opportunities in the Gulf and train personnel accordingly at the MRCs. The dozen UP NRI Corporation offices will also help potential migrants and overseas Indians in tackling problems related to documentation, obtaining or renewing passports and other related matters.
The UP government is also urging Gulf states, and other countries that are popular destinations for migrants, to arrange for visa facilitation centres in cities such as Lucknow. This is to reduce the burden on the poor, who have to travel long distances to Delhi to get visas. "They can even hold regular camps here," he notes. "The decision related to the visa will obviously be taken at the embassy in Delhi, but things like finger-printing and other paper work can be done by the agency in Lucknow and other cities."
Referring to the steps undertaken by his department to ease conditions for NRIs from UP, Jetley says that the government recently issued an order, instructing police stations not to register an FIR (first information report) against an NRI without getting the approval of an official inspector.
"This has been done to avoid frivolous FIRs being initiated by individuals against NRIs," points out Jetley. "We will take all the necessary legal steps to protect NRIs from the state."
The government is planning to set up special NRI courts to fast-track cases involving overseas Indians. These would include matrimonial cases and disputes related to properties and other civil matters. NRIs face problems related to their properties being grabbed by unscrupulous elements, or of builders not giving them possession, despite having paid the full amount. "We are also planning to set up separate NRI police stations," adds Jetley.
Many of the NRIs from UP migrated several decades ago and their children have virtually lost contact with the state. The government now plans to launch a youth programme for the next generation of diaspora, who were born in different countries and have grown up abroad.
"We have a sizeable diaspora in the West Indies, Fiji and South Africa," explains Jetley. "They have had no platform to connect with their mother state. Their children also have no cultural connect with the state. We want to rectify this."
Many of the NRIs who have settled abroad for many years and have done well have also had a desire to donate funds to their schools and colleges. But the process of getting clearances under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act could be quite an onerous task for individuals.
The UP NRI department is now encouraging NRIs to channelise their donations through the India Development Foundation of Overseas Indians (IDF-OI), a not-for-profit trust registered by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs - and which is exempt from the provisions of the FCRA - to facilitate philanthropic activities by NRIs. An NRI from UP, who had studied at the Aligarh Muslim University, and who has been living in the US for 45 years, is now planning to send $2 million through the IDF-OI to his alma mater, for setting up a school of management. "He also wants to help in setting up more educational institutions in his home town Azamgarh," says Jetley. An NRI from Riyadh has also sent money through the IDO-OI to the AMU.