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Indian experts hope for Iraq job boom

Indian manpower exporters expect a bonanza in the reconstruction of the ravaged oil-rich Iraq.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2003 15:50 IST

With the Iraq war winding down, Indian manpower exporters expect a bonanza in the reconstruction of the ravaged oil-rich country.

“At the moment, about 25,000 people go to the Gulf from Delhi and Mumbai every month,” says Mohd Afzal Khan of Faisal Tours and Travels in Connaught Place. “When work in Iraq begins, we expect the numbers to go up to a lakh a month.”

Labour Minister Sahib Singh Verma is not so sure. “With the way things went in Parliament, our chances are normal, not bright,” he says. “Anyway, it all depends on what kind of interim government comes in, and whether it is UN-supported or US-backed. It will take another fortnight for things to become clear.”

However, the exporters are optimistic that construction activities will require many Indians. “They’ll need masons, carpenters, welders and plumbers,” Khan says.

He says that about 13 lakh Indians work in Saudi Arabia, and a lakh in Kuwait. Exporters charge around Rs 70,000 for each emigrant, and Khan claims his take is 10 per cent of that.

Verma agrees that India has an advantage over places like Pakistan and the Philippines in that its skilled and semi-skilled workers are comfortable with English. But he sees most labour going to Iraq as project-related, and not as free agents. “It has traditionally been that way for big Indian companies operating in Iraq and Iran,” he said.

Ministry officials believe that US companies will prefer Indian labour over those from Muslim countries because of the anger against the Iraq war. Verma dismisses this: “Even if some Americans are anti-Muslim after 9/11, they’ll never act in a way that looks anti-Muslim,” he says.

Though Verma’s bureaucrats have no action plan yet, he says that as soon as the new political dispensation in Baghdad takes shape, his ministry will swing into action. “We are ready and waiting,” he says.

Manpower Markers

WHO WILL BENEFIT THE MOST?

Skilled and semi-skilled construction workers

WHEN WILL THE BOOM START?

As soon as an interim government is in place

WHAT ARE THE CATCHMENT AREAS?

Mostly poorer states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan

First Published: Apr 13, 2003 00:15 IST