Merely about a month before the model code of conduct was to be implemented, Vayalar Ravi, the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs in the erstwhile UPA Government, gave the go-ahead to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to implement a software, later named eMigrate, to clear passports with Emigration Check Required status, at a whopping cost of Rs. 92 crore; thus replacing SAI software that was made at a cost of mere Rs. 10 lakh and if insiders are to be believed was far more efficient than the replaced one. eMigrate that is now being used to process requests from unskilled labourers wanting to go abroad for a job is such an operational nightmare that not only the entire Manpower Recruitment industry operating mostly from Mumbai seems at the verge of closure but the job applications of several labourers is said to have expired even before they could be processed. The recruiters, mostly individuals or companies located in the Middle East, are even threatening starting recruitments from other countries if the problem persists in India.
Unskilled Indian labour is in great demand, especially in the Middle East countries. But this new software, implemented by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to clear passports with Emigration Check Required status, from September 25 onwards, ruffled feathers of applicants, Recruiting Agents (RAs) who help the applicants complete procedure for a commission, and the emigration officers at the Mumbai Protector of Emigrants (PoE) office alike.
The fact that the new software was enforced merely about a month before model code of conduct for Lok Sabha elections came into effect is enough to raise eyebrows. They were trying to introduce the software since several years but Sandeep Roy, earlier working as Protector of Immigrants, knowing its deficiencies tried to stall it,” tells Abdur RehmanYasin Khan, Vice President of Indian Personnel Promotion Export Council, adding that while BJP is considered as a communal party, it is the Congress which has taken most adverse decisions. ‘They try to marry an impotent person; the problems were bound to happen,’ says he.
Sandeep Roy too rues over the decision: “The SAI system was never closed and worked 24×7 without any server issues. It was made by consulting the POEs, and was user-friendly and transparent. It is shocking to learn why the government went ahead with a project that cost them R92 crore, besides causing inconvenience. The SAI system gave no problems and cost a mere R10 lakh.”
The RAs therefore have no option but to come up in arms against the new software. The Employment Promotion Council of Indian Personnel, apex body of RAs registered with the POE, has objected to the implementation of the project. Deepak Chabria, its chairman, has reportedly filed an RTI request to know the exact cost of the eMigrate project. “Being the main hub controlling more than 70 per cent of total India’s overseas recruitment, Mumbai is a very important city and the POE office has, in the past, granted emigration clearance to 7,000 emigrant workers on a single day. This is the highest number of clearances received in a day. In a given month, they would grant 45,000 approvals. But now, the condition of officers as well as the applicants is extremely poor, as both of them, along with us, are slogging to clear as many passports as we can.”
Athar Qureshi, head of Indian Personnel Export Promotion Council, another RA, says, “The trial of this new system was conducted in Delhi. Instead, the trial should have been conducted in the Mumbai office as it bears the maximum load. There are 800 active RAs in Mumbai alone. This new system could have been improved if the government wanted some changes, rather than coming up with a complete new highly expensive project that has become a headache to everyone.”
Adds Abdur RehmanYasin Khan: “Countries go all the way to look for avenues where their unemployed can be accommodated. 12 lakh people from India are getting employed in the Middle East every year. All those jobs are being sacrificed in the name of law.”
Says he: “When the gold had been shifted out of the country in PM Chandrashekhar’s government, the rule was changed and everybody was allowed to go to the Middle East. If the life of an individual was at stake in these countries, why would somebody go,” he argues. There are very few people going to Iraq or Syria now. This is the trap by erstwhile Congress government in which BJP too seem to have fallen.
Syed Abbas, another RA too argues that the TCS server is inefficient. “It may be taking care of the needs of RAs in cities like Delhi where there are not more than 200 submissions in a day,” says he, adding that “the system fails in Mumbai where the submissions are as high as 30-40,000 in a day.”
“Pending work is therefore mounting. Instead of making the system easier, they are making it difficult. The business is going out of our hands. The recruiters have money as well as choices. Why would they recruit from India if problems continue to persist?” rues Abbas.
Other than the issue of imminent loss to business and eventual closure of the industry if the problem continues to persist, RAs are also presenting the issue from the point of view of national interest. Rahman says that these migrant workers send back 70,000 billion dollar worth of foreign exchange every year. If 28 lakh people are employed in the Middle East, it means the country has to worry less for jobs of as many people. If this big number is unable to get jobs, they will indulge in crime. A case of suicide has already happened in Mumbai, informs Rahman.
Abbas clarifies that the issue is not of Muslims alone. As per figures, recruitments in the Middle East are in the ratio of 50:50 for Muslims and others. This is a burning issue. Many visas will expire, if remedial measures are not taken immediately.
Another RA who doesn’t wish to be named says: “While PM Modi’s slogan is less documents, less corruption and quick service, the new system has failed on all three. There are more documents, it is inviting more corruption and the service is getting lengthy.”