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Gulf’s recession ripples yet to hit Kerala

While mass cancellations of job visas from the recession-hit Gulf sent shudders across Kerala...

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananathapuram | Published: February 16, 2009 11:33 pm

While mass cancellations of job visas from the recession-hit Gulf sent shudders across Kerala,which has built up a strong remittance economy over the past three decades,the impact of the meltdown in oil land is yet to reach the shore of the state either in the form of an exodus of expatriates or a fall in NRE deposits. Recruiting agencies and experts claim symptoms of a major catastrophe are nowhere in sight and only jobs in Dubai have been hit so far.

According to H A Munnaf,the Air India manager at the airport here,the flow of passengers to the Gulf and back have been steady in recent months. “We had compared the volume of passengers in the last two months with the figures in the corresponding periods earlier. No spurt in inflow was visible this time. The bookings for the next couple of months also do not indicate a mass return from Gulf. A slight fall has been reported in Dubai-bound passengers,reportedly due to crisis in the construction industry,” he told The Indian Express. The trend is more or less similar in the Kochi and Kozhikode,the other two airports in the state from where Air-India operates Gulf flights.

Prof S Erudaya Rajan,an expert on migration issues at the Centre for Development Studies here,said the increase in return from Gulf nations in the aftermath of recession would be just five to 10 per cent compared to last year. “A major chunk of workers in Gulf had gone with the help of relatives or friends previously employed there. Even if jobs are lost now,a section of them would stay there,expecting things to improve. Several companies have laid-off their work force,with an assurance that they would be absorbed when the industry resumes normalcy,” said Rajan.

Due to the boom in the construction industry,there was an extra flow of workers to Dubai last year. They would have to return this year as that industry is facing “correction” now. Rajan said many workers have begun to send their families back home because of the spiraling of the cost of living and schooling. As a fallout,schools in Kerala are getting lot of admission enquires these days,he said.

“If you believe that 20,000 or 30,000 people had lost jobs these months,why have no extra flights been pressed into operation like during the Kuwait war? Why no such demand arises from the expatriate community this time?” asks Rajan.

E M Najeeb,general manager of Norka-Roots,the state government agency looking after the welfare of overseas Keralites,said no exact data on the returnees was available. “We do not see a panic situation now as reported in media.”

Government-run Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants Ltd has 60 enlisted recruiters in various Gulf destinations. “There is a fall in recruitment in UAE. But companies from other Gulf destinations recruit with a reduced number,” said general manager G L Muralidharan.

Kerala’s banks,which annually manage Rs 40,000 crore remittance from Gulf countries,is also unfazed by the recession in the Gulf. Kochi-based Federal Bank,which has a 22 per cent share in NRE deposit in the state’s banking sector,has not reported any fall in remittance in the last three months compared to the corresponding season previous year. “From August to November 2008,there had been an unprecedented increase in the quantum of remittance due to the crisis in the Gulf banks. Then,India was thought to be a safer investment destination. After December,the flow of money has been steady,” said an official,adding that retention of the remittance in the bank has now gone up by 18 per cent compared to last March.

But,the picture from across the Arabian Sea is strikingly different and gloomy. According to M C A Nazer,Gulf bureau chief of Madhyamam,a Kozhikode-based Malayalam daily,Dubai has been the worst hit by the recession. “After oil prices plummeted,several sectors such as tourism,advertising,banking,automobile and real estate have left bleeding.”

Nazer told The Indian Express that 30,000 visas had been cancelled in Dubai within the last three months. “But,we do not know how many of them were from India. Indian officials claim that jobs were not lost in a big way. But,the crisis will deepen in the coming months and spread to other Gulf nations also. No one can fathom the crisis at this stage. Several workers,majority from Kerala,have been languishing in labour camps fearing return to their home land,” said Nazer.

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