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Mumbai is weak link in 'manpower export'

Mississippi could change Mumbai. If it doesn’t, expect more instances of Indian workers dumped in inhuman working conditions, report HT Correspondents.
Hindustan Times | By Presley Thomas and Ramesh Babu, Mumbai/thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON MAR 12, 2008 05:02 AM IST

Mississippi could change Mumbai. If it doesn’t, expect more instances of Indian workers dumped in inhuman working and living conditions by unscrupulous recruiting agents and their clients.

Mumbai is at the heart of India’s manpower export – accounting for almost a third of the country’s licenced recruiting agents – 690 of 1,835. But the number of shady, off-the-book operators could be many times more. And this is what makes Mumbai the weak link in India’s manpower export.

“To track these unscrupulous agents is physically impossible because they operate from makeshift offices and shanties,” said an official in the office of the protectorate of emigrants. He did not want to be identified.

But 120 Indian workers who have sued their US employer in Mississippi were shipped off by a regular, licensed recruiter Dewan Consultants Pvt Ltd. The government has since suspended its licence.

Regulating even the licensed agents is a problem – violations abound. Many of the Mississippi-bound workers were charged huge sums of money for booking a berth on the plane to the place of their dreams.

When, under law, they shouldn’t have been charged more than Rs 10,000 as fee for processing their papers. Many of these workers sold or mortgaged their ancestral land to pay agents.

Most of the Mississippi workers went from Kerala, a significant hub for manpower export. But why didn’t they go through any of the registered agents in state? Why did they have to come to Mumbai?

Answers to these questions contain the template for change Mississippi is holding up for Mumbai. Kerala regulates manpower export very well. But it wasn’t always so – it was probably as bad as Mumbai.

The state’s hub, Kochi was famously lawless; reported 60 to 75 cases of cheating every month. And then the police, the government and the recruiters decided to jointly tackle the menace. A Recruitment Agencies Monitoring Programme was launched. “Earlier, the police acted only after getting cases of cheating. But now we can impart awareness among public about overseas recruitment and cross check the veracity and claims of the agencies,” said Kochi Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham, the man behind the programme, explained.

The hotels and convention centres are under instructions not rent out space for overseas appointments or for education abroad without written permission from the police commissioner.

“For getting permission, the agency will have to produce the originals of documents authorising them to do the procedure and also prove the credentials of the organisations recruiting,” Abraham said.

As a result, cheating complaints are down to three or five a month now. Mumbai, on the other hand, doesn’t complain.
NB Jhambulkar, protector of emigrants (Mumbai), said, “People, it seems, are happy to grab the first opportunity to board an international flight.”

Or, this city has no time for niceties. “Nearly 1,500 applications are processed on a daily basis. Mumbai process more applications than all other centres put together,” said Jhambulkar.

More than seven lakh people went abroad to work from Mumbai in 2007. Of these, 3.9 lakh workers went to West Asian countries such as Saudi Arabia. The rest could have gone anywhere. Even to Mississippi.

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