The prime minister, ever the skilled orator, threw in a hookline to the thousands at a Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event in Bangalore saying, “To me, FDI means First Develop India through Foreign Direct Investment, the norms of which have been fully liberalised for non-resident Indian and persons of Indian origin.” His aim was to enthuse the diaspora to engage in the government’s flagship programmes like Digital India, Make in India, Start-up India, Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and Namami Gange which, of course, could push all round development.
But the NRI is also canny about where he puts his money. Despite all our best efforts, the ease of doing business in India is still daunting. Anyone investing here would want basics like safety for employees, a good quality of life and certainly less red tape.
The other aspect of the pravasi story is that of the huge remittances which flow in from the diaspora. And it is here that the government has consistently failed to highlight the pravasis who have unfailingly sent money home, keeping parts of the economy afloat over the years.
While it is laudable that the government tries to attract big ticket investment from NRIs, it should also recognise the contribution of the small pravasi, mainly from the Gulf who engage in myriad, often menial, jobs and send home a whopping $35.9 billion dollars in remittances, the figure having slid slightly thanks to the drop in oil prices.
Though we now have a very proactive external affairs minister in Sushma Swaraj, many Indians working in West Asia do so in conditions of extreme hardship, often with no access to their travel documents that are in the custody of their employers. Many have no job security and can be dismissed with little notice.
Yet, in places like Kerala, often described as a remittance economy, their flow of money keeps many households going. Thanks to the global slowdown and dip in oil prices, many of them have had to return home with no safety net. The pravasi divas could also be an opportunity for the government to look into their problems and concerns and consider perhaps re-skilling those who have lost their jobs abroad.
The idea of creating a national data repository is a positive one as it will enable prospective employers to bypass middleman and reach out to people whose skills they are seeking. Remittances make up 3.7% of GDP.
The government must act as a facilitator for those wishing to seek jobs elsewhere as well as provide a conducive atmosphere to those who wish to return. Maybe next time around, the government could spare a little more thought for the small pravasi also.