New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) Indian missions in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are understaffed and need to be strengthened, say expatriate Indians living in the Gulf region.
The demand was put forward in a session on "Issues of NRIs in the Gulf" held as part of the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - the annual gathering of the Indian diaspora - which concluded here Thursday.
The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These countries are home to around six million expatriate Indians.
The issue came into focus after Indian missions in Saudi Arabia had to virtually work 24 hours a day last year after that country's authorities offered a grace period for illegal expatriates to rectify their residency status following the implementation of a new labour policy.
India's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Hamid Ali Rao came in for praise for the way he and his officers handled the situation.
"The way our mission in (Saudi Arabia's capital) Riyadh handled the Nitaqat (new labour policy)-related issue needs to be appreciated," Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed said.
"Our officers did this massive work despite limited resources and manpower," he said.
Ahamed said the officers were helped by 600 volunteers who responded to an appeal made by the Indian embassy.
A delegate from Jeddah said how the Indian consulate there came under pressure during the course of this massive exercise.
"Otherwise too, the consulate has only two officers to look after the welfare of 200,000 (Indian) people spread in that part of Saudi Arabia, which is a huge region," he said.
The delegate said more vehicles need to be provided to the consulate to meet expatriate Indians living there.
"Sometimes, you have to drive 1,000 km without taking a break," he said.
According to another delegate from the UAE, two protocol officers should be appointed to the Indian consulate in Dubai.
"Whenever we go to meet some officer in the consulate with some specific request, we are told that the officer has gone to the airport (to receive or see off some dignitary)," he said.
Ahamed agreed and said the situation faced by the Dubai mission was similar to the one faced by the Indian high commission in London.
He, however, assured the delegates that he would look into the issue of staff strength in the Indian missions in the Gulf region.
Another delegate raised the issue of increasing the number of Air India's flights from the Gulf region to Indian cities, but Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said he tried for this but it was not successful.
"The (civil aviation) ministry says there are simply not enough aircraft to increase flights," he said.
When another delegate raised the issue of allowing non-resident Indians (NRIs) to exercise their newly gained voting right via postal ballot, Ravi said it was not possible.
"Elections fall under an independent authority, the Election Commission, and it has not agreed to allow NRIs to vote by postal ballot. If NRIs want to vote, they have to be in India at the time of elections," he said.
Among others present at the session were Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, Kerala's minister for non-resident Keralites' affairs (NORKA), India's ambassadors to the six GCC nations and Yemen, and some prominent expatriate Indians from the Gulf.