Gulf deaths of Indian workers needs scrutiny, urges RTI Activist
The data from the Embassies of six Gulf countries and information from Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were compiled to reveal that at least 24, 570 Indian workers died in the six Gulf Countries between 2012 and mid-2018.
Recently, a Right to Information (RTI) intervention disclosed that in 2012-18, on an average, more than 10 Indian workers died in Gulf countries every day. It was consequently estimated that for every USD 1 Billion remitted, 117 deaths occurred.
RTI expert and activist Venkatesh Nayak – who brought this RTI revelation – told Delhi Post that he wanted to understand the status of Indian workers in Gulf Countries given “the ever-increasing foreign exchange inflows” including Foreign Portfolio Investments (FPIs) and remittances from such countries.
“They contribute so much for their home country but what is the clout they have? What are the rights they enjoy as workers? I thought this phenomenon needs to be studied,” Nayak shared with Delhi Post.
“While the World Bank publishes estimates of remittances from every country sent to every other country on the globe in its annual Migration Reports, the Reserve Bank of India publishes weekly remittance data based on the financial year cycle. Yet country-wise data regarding remittances is not traceable on RBI’s website.”
The data from the Embassies of six Gulf countries namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and information from the websites of Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha (of the Indian Parliament) were compiled to reveal that at least 24, 570 Indian workers died in the six Gulf Countries between 2012 and mid-2018.
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Staggering number of deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia totalling 10,416 while Bahrain accounted for the least number of deaths numbering 1,317.
“This number could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly. This amounts to more than 10 deaths per day during this period,” said Nayak, who represents Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a non-governmental organisation.
How did he come to file the RTI? In the backdrop of a reply to an Unstarred Question raised in the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister of State for External Affairs said that during April-September 2018, blue-collared Indian workers in these countries had remitted USD 33.47 Billion back home.
This prompted Nayak to submit a request for information under the RTI Act, 2005 to the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) seeking information on ‘the year-wise list of the names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers who died in these countries between January 1, 2012 till date and the cause of death as mentioned in the death certificates of every deceased Indian worker during the same period’.
“I wanted a reply through MEA. So, I filed the RTI in August, this year. The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) promptly transferred the RTI application to the CPIOs of the Indian Embassies situated in the six Gulf countries,” said Nayak.
He also opined that it “seems MEA does not maintain data” about the deaths of Indian workers unless queries are raised in Parliament. “The lack of data with regard to number of deaths of Indian workers in Gulf countries can be gauged by the fact that information had to be collated from the CPIOs of Indian Embassies,” he commented.
Interestingly, while UAE was the source of the highest amount of remittances from Indian workers during the years 2012-2017 with US$ 72.3 Billion, it also had the lowest deaths per US$ Billion remitted to India which was a little more than 71 deaths.
Conversely, Bahrain which came at the bottom of the list in terms of total remittances during the same period (US$ 7.19 Billion only), stood at the second place in terms of the number of deaths of Indian workers per US$ Billion remitted (a little more than 183 deaths).
A comparison of the remittances data from Gulf countries with the remittances from the Indian Diaspora in the advanced countries namely UK, USA and Canada showed that the “Indian Diaspora in the developed world seems to wield more political influence in India than the Indian worker community eking out a living in Gulf countries”.
“This phenomenon also needs a deeper examination from researchers and academics. It is hoped that the Central Government will start this exercise by making more information about deaths of Indian workers in these countries public,” Nayak told Delhi Post.
“There is an urgent need to commission experts to study the cause of deaths, especially the large number of deaths labelled in Qatar as “natural deaths”, and examine the conditions under which Indians work there and identify measures that will prevent avoidable deaths,” added Nayak, referring to the CPIO of the Indian Embassy in Qatar which was the only country to provide some information about the cause of deaths.
The data showed that while more than 80 per cent of the deaths have been attributed to natural causes, almost 14 per cent of the deaths occurred in accidents and almost six per cent of these deaths were due to suicides.
In “public interest” and considering that “remittances from non-Gulf countries are less than those of Gulf countries”, such information must be disclosed, Nayak asserted.
While the most number of deaths occurred in 2015 with 4,702, the smallest number was reported in 2012 with 2,375. The data further revealed that by July-August 2018, already 1,656 deaths had occurred.
According to data tabled in Parliament by the Central Government, 7.75 lakh Indian workers were issued Emigration Clearances (ECR) in 2014 enabling them to work in the six Gulf countries. This number has since fallen year after year, ever since. 7.6 lakh workers were issued ECR clearances in 2015, 5.07 lakh workers issued ECR in 2016. During the first 10 months of 2018 only 3.46 lakh ECRs were issued by the Central Government. The number of ECRs seems to have halved since 2014.
“In its reply to an Unstarred Question raised in the Lok Sabha, the Government also listed a slew of measures put in place to provide safeguards for Indian workers in Gulf countries. However, none of these measures include any mention of steps taken to study the phenomenon of deaths of Indian workers in Gulf countries.”
So, what comes next? “I will file an appeal with the Central Information Commission to examine the good practice of the Indian Embassy in Kuwait and direct the other Embassies to emulate their standard of proactive information disclosure regarding the deaths of Indian workers abroad,” held Nayak.
He further told Delhi Post, “The exercise has been done keeping in mind the need for public awareness in this regard. Also, Members of Parliament (MPs) keep track of such information. We are hoping that something comes out of this considering it makes such a strong case for the status (and treatment thereof) of Indian workers in Gulf countries.”