Budget ignored overseas Indian workers, says Ravi

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Girish Menon

His Ministry had sought Rs.100 crore to set up welfare fund

Thiruvananthapuram: Union Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has said he is dissatisfied with the Union Budget as it has failed to make allocation for a Rs.100-crore corpus for establishing a welfare fund for overseas Indian workers.

Replying to a question on what the Union Budget held for his Ministry, Mr. Ravi told The Hindu here on Sunday that he had sought a welfare fund for overseas Indian workers considering their contribution to the country's economy. He said the Government was offering many concessions, including tax concessions, to corporate houses and Special Economic Zones.

While accepting the initiatives of the Union Cabinet, of which he was a part, to promote employment generation, investments and boosting exports, Mr. Ravi said overseas Indian workers, particularly those in the Gulf, were a community that was earning foreign exchange without expecting anything from the Government. He said the welfare fund would enable the Government to take up several programmes, including skill upgradation, resettlement of returnees, and steps for their welfare and protection in the destination countries during the Eleventh Plan.

Remittances from abroad came to about 1.5 per cent of the GDP. The economic and social significance of this important segment could be judged by the spectacular growth in remittances from the Gulf. In 2005-06, India was the highest recipient of remittances from overseas Indians estimated at over $23 billion.

About 45 per cent of these remittances, over $12 billion, were the contribution of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. There is an urgent need to undertake a slew of welfare measures for this segment, including returnees. The temporary migration of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers, mostly to the Gulf, was unique in that the social cost of education or vocational training was modest while the economic and social benefits derived from remittances were significant.

Mr. Ravi said there was evidence to suggest that remittances in the aggregate as well as per capita from the overseas Indian workers were significantly higher than remittances from others. Overseas Indian workers were at the lower end of the income scale; their remittances, however, not only support household consumption back home, but also provide resources for investments in the rural sector, particularly agriculture. Return migration could increase the incidence of unemployment by exerting pressure on the scarce job opportunities, he said.

As for the Budget as a whole, Mr. Ravi felt that the Central and State Governments should carry out effective market intervention to curb price rise. To a question, Mr. Ravi said we should follow in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi who changed the face of Indian economy through bank nationalisation and strengthening the public distribution system. The bank nationalisation made the rural economy vibrant, making the poor a participant in development.

Mr. Ravi said he was more inclined to the economy of the European Union that emphasised on welfare State. The European Union had a market economy, but the State effectively intervened in the interest of the poor and weaker sections.

Terming the price rise unprecedented, Mr. Ravi said the Union and State Governments should have an effective market intervention programme not only to curb price rise, but also to ensure the availability of essential commodities.

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