India to issue ‘discriminatory’ passports to migrant workers



India plans to issue orange-covered passports to some migrant workers, not the regular blue passport, pictured above. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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India to issue ‘discriminatory’ passports to migrant workers



LONDON: The Indian government has drawn widespread criticism after it revealed a plan to introduce orange-colored passport jackets for some migrant workers. 
Legal experts and campaigners called the plan discriminatory and said it could increase the vulnerability of workers to being duped by middlemen who promise them jobs, often in the Arabian Gulf. 
Last week the country’s Ministry of External Affairs announced that migrant workers who need emigration clearance to travel to 18 countries would soon be issued with orange passports, instead of India’s traditional navy blue passport. 
Emigration clearance is required by those travelers who have not passed the equivalent of 10th grade at school.
“Passport holders with ECR (Emigration Check Required) status would be issued a passport with orange color passport jacket and those with non-ECR status would continue to get a blue passport,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told Reuters on Friday.
The new orange-covered passports are supposed to protect vulnerable laborers from exploitation abroad.
The Foreign Ministry told The Washington Post the change will make it easier for immigration and law enforcement officers to spot travelers who require vetting before they leave for certain countries. The theory is it would also make human trafficking more difficult as border officials would know who needs extra permission to travel.
The plan has been roundly criticized, including by the leader of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, who tweeted: “Treating India’s migrant workers like second class citizens is completely unacceptable.”

S. Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Center for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, from where many migrant workers originate, said: 
“You cannot divide people on the basis of educational qualifications; it’s discriminatory.
“An orange cover shows a person is not well educated, and makes them vulnerable to exploitation. These are already vulnerable people who need more protection, not discrimination,” he told Reuters.
India is the world’s largest exporter of migrant labor. 
There are an estimated six million Indian migrants in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman. 
Some  are duped by job agents, and trapped in low paying jobs with few benefits or protections.
The workers are crucial to the Indian economy, with expats sending home $69 billion in 2015, making it the top nation for remittances, according to the World Bank.
The Indian government is still to release details of the plan, including a timeline for implementation.
“The government could argue that these passports are for the workers’ protection, but to a worker it may not seem that way,” Sehjo Singh, a director at advocacy group ActionAid India, told Reuters.
“The government must make clear how this system will work in favor of the workers.”


India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

Updated 3 min 43 sec ago
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India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

  • The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka with 104 seats but fell short of a majority.
  • Indian opposition parties join forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in the big southern state

NEW DELHI: Indian opposition parties have joined forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in a big southern state, laying the stage for other such alliances in a direct challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid next year.
A coalition of Congress and a regional group said on Sunday they will establish a government in Karnataka state next week, after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to prove its majority despite bagging more seats than any other party in a closely-fought election.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party — which has struggled to make any major political inroads since Modi stormed to power four years ago — said his party will rally regional groups into a common front against Modi.
“I am very proud that the opposition has stood together and defeated the BJP, and we will continue to do so,” said Gandhi.
Karnataka, with a population of 66 million, was the first major state this year to elect an assembly, and will be followed by three more before the general election in 2019.
Political strategists say polls in Karnataka, home to India’s “Silicon Valley” Bengaluru, which was previously known as Bangalore, were seen as a key test of Modi’s popularity but the final outcome highlights the threats he faces from a united opposition are much bigger than anticipated.
“Formation of this coalition is a platform for an anti-BJP alliance for the next year,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist at Bengaluru’s Jain University.
“Any shortfall in other states will further consolidate anti-BJP forces.”
Karnataka’s state’s governor last week allowed Modi’s party to form a government, even as it became clear that with only 104 seats the Hindu nationalist BJP trailed the opposition alliance, which has at least 115 seats in the 225-member assembly. That decision prompted Modi’s rivals to turn to the Supreme Court.
The governor gave the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, but the court ordered a vote of confidence in the assembly on Saturday. Even before that could take place, BJP’s newly appointed state chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, resigned.
To bring the regional party — Janata Dal (Secular) — into the alliance, Congress, which has 78 of the seats, did have to concede the chief minister’s job to the smaller group. Previously, the state had been held by Congress.
“VOTE OF OVERCONFIDENCE“
Mamata Banerjee, a powerful politician in eastern India, described Modi’s failure in Karnataka as a “victory of the regional front.”
In an apparent show of strength against Modi, most opposition leaders have been invited for the upcoming swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka’s new chief minister, said Sanjay Jha, Congress’ national spokesman.
Jha said Congress’ spirit ahead of the 2019 polls was that of “necessary political accommodation” when it comes to forming alliances to stop Modi.
BJP leader Seshadri Chari said no opposition alliance will be able to stop Modi. “BJP will emerge as the single largest party (in 2019) with a majority.”
Modi remains by far the most popular politician in India and his approval rankings far outweigh Gandhi, who is the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
US-based research agency Pew released a survey in November that showed nearly nine out of 10 Indians held a favorable opinion of Modi.
On Sunday, Indian newspapers carried front-page headlines highlighting Modi’s loss, a rare sight of late in Indian politics: The BJP and its allies rule 21 of India’s 29 states currently, up from seven they ruled in 2014.
“BJP loses vote of overconfidence,” said the Indian Express newspaper’s front page headline.