By Gyanendra Kumar Keshri
New Delhi/Doha, (IANS) The Indian diaspora in Qatar, constituting nearly one-third of the Gulf country’s population, has called for better protection of their interests, especially of low paid workers, as Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani begins his official visit to India from Sunday.
Indians are the largest expatriate community in Qatar. Of the total around 1.7 million population, over 500,000 are Indians, mostly employed in middle-level and low-paid jobs.
Although supply of additional gas will be on top of the Qatari ruler’s three-day state visit, the Indian diaspora has urged the leadership of both the countries to work out a mechanism to protect the interests of low-paid workers through liberalisation of visa and labour norms.
“There is a need for better protection of the interests of Indian workers, especially in the low-paid category,” said Kurian Kuriakose, managing partner of the Doha-based Morison Menon Chartered Accountants.
He said Qatar should liberalise visa norms and grant work permit to more Indian workers who have played a significant role in the growth and development of the country.
“Considering the vast pool of skilled manpower to support the fast-paced development of Qatar, it can only be of mutual benefit if more Indian workforce is entertained in Qatar,” Kuriakose told IANS from Doha.
Workers are not allowed to leave the country without getting an “exit permit” from their employers. Generally employers keep the passports of their workers in their own custody. This leads to exploitation of workers.
“My passport is held by the employer. I can’t leave the country without an exit permit. These things must change,” said an Indian banking professional based in Doha, who did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation.
The Qatari Emir, accompanied by his wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned and senior ministers, will visit India from April 8 to 10.
This will be the first visit of the Qatari ruler to India in seven years. Sheikh Hamad, who deposed his father to become emir in 1995, visited India in May 2005. He had also visited New Delhi in April 1999.
An official at the external affairs ministry in New Delhi said Qatar was likely to assure the supply of an additional three million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) during the visit.
India already imports 7.5 million tonnes of natural gas annually from Qatar on a long-term contract. Besides gas, India also imported four million tonnes of crude from Qatar in 2011.
Sheikh Hamad is to hold delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday. Several agreements are likely to be signed after the talks, said an external affairs ministry official who did not want to be quoted.
The official said issues related to visa and labour laws are also likely to be discussed at the highest level.
The Qatari ruler’s visit will follow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Doha in November 2008. Singh is the only Indian prime minister to have visited Qatar, located in the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.