Hope is the most important earning of the Keralite expatriates in Gulf countries.
The economic and employment reforms that have been taking place in Gulf nations dim that hope. However, the Loka Kerala Sabha (LKS), an initiative organized by the state government in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday and Saturday last week have made it more colourful. The government claims that the event - which was held for two days involving discussions with all the legislators in the state including the Ministers and the members of the Parliament as well as the assembly and the representatives of the expatriate community residing in states outside Kerala and abroad, at the Kerala legislative assembly complex - would be a new step in the field of development. It was guaranteed in the election manifesto of the LDF that a global forum of the expatriate organisations and discussions would be held at the zonal level. The LKS will have 351 members comprising union ministers, MPs, MLAs, representatives of different expat communities and special invitees, who will meet once in two years and put in efforts to harness the strengths and skills of Keralite diaspora for development of the state. The state government announced this platform as part of such an attempt. It is certainly welcome that the entire state government led by the Chief Minister was there to lend an ear to the NRKs and consider their contributions for the development of the state with the required seriousness. And as it turned out, it was a new dawn of unity and Kerala's solidarity with the diaspora that all including the Opposititon closed their eyes towards the shortfalls of the event, and extended all support to LKS.
Concluding the event, the state government made several notable announcements that boost the expectations of the NRKs. Schemes such as the Kerala Bank which envisages an NRI investment of Rs 1.5 lakh crore, the NRI Social Welfare Co-Operative Society and the Pravasi Chitties which targets up to 10 lakh NRIs of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) have been presented. Different departments opened the door to immense opportunities for investment before the expat investors. New schemes projecting economic gains from even the cultural sector were introduced. It is surely an achievement that the LKS served to seek investment and employment opportunities in spheres ranging from jackfruit and tapioca to Information Technology and to reachcertain agreements. The government also has given a pledge of a Kerala development fund that guarantees job - depending on their qualification - to those willing to make a fixed deposit as share in the declared expatriate enterprises when they return from abroad. . This suggestion that came from the expat entrepreneurs was being accepted by the government. Special loan facilities for NRK entrepreneurs, single window facility for investors, NRI Business chambers to be set up abroad, services to the research and trade establishments in Kerala by forming NRI professional committees in all countries, special departments and regional sub-departments in NORKA (Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs) for different kinds of expatriates and returnees, a scheme for the protection of ailing persons and those who lose their jobs and special single window facility for NRI investments were also guaranteed. The Chief Minister also informed that a secretariat like the assembly and a standing committee in seven departments for the further execution of the suggestions by the LKS and the announcements by the government, would also be formed
Expatriates can get solace from the fact that they were once again able to collectively present before the government, and get positive responses to, the issues discussed and complained about for long. The government would have found it handy that they got an opportunity to record in a structured and documented form all the items raised through the clamour and memoranda received during the formal and informal visits by government representatives, and to evolve follow-up action. But, although an occasion was created, as said in the conference slogan, to sit together and interact, the future of the Sabha will depend on the kind of co-ordinated action that follows the proceedings. Several conclaves of the kind of Keralite diaspora and returnees have been held since decades ago under different titles like congress, union, summit and seminar. And there has been no dearth of declarations either. But, barring gimmicks which give wings for flight of dreams, no one has made any earnest effort till date to realize any of the projects - right from non-resident welfare corporation to Air Kerala airline. If evidence is needed, suffice is to look at the pathetic state of official entities like NorkaODEPC (Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants). Therefore, it will not suffice to just convene an expatriate meet at the Assembly hall, with the name Loka Sabha. The government should be prepared to implement the declared plans, at least those in the jurisdiction of the state government, and to exert effective pressure for those that need Central government involvement. Otherwise, this Sabha - held in the name of expatriate Keralites - will end up as a mere mock assembly.