In an ill-timed move, the Kerala government is seeking to renovate a conference room when migrants abroad are dying
When over 221 Keralites have died in Arab Gulf countries due to COVID-19, NORKA, the Kerala government agency set up for the welfare of non-resident Keralites, plans to spend Rs 2 crore for office renovation and other projects.
A government order reviewed by The Lede reveals that the state has allotted Rs 1.2 crore for renovation of the NORKA headquarters and the rest for other facilities.
The move has irked many Keralites in the Arab Gulf.
“221 people died. Even the bodies couldn’t be repatriated due to the COVID-19 protocol. Instead of helping the deceased’s family, the state is throwing away money for unnecessary things,” Lateefh Thechy, a Keralite social worker in Saudi Arabia, said.
“If the government had decided to share that Rs 2 crore among the families of the deceased, then each family would have got Rs 1 lakh, which would have been a great relief for them,” Lateefh added.
The NORKA order states that Rs 15 lakh will be spent for renovation of the conference hall, Rs 8 lakh for the mobile compactor and staff room, Rs 7.2 lakh for opening satellite offices in Kolkata and Hyderabad, Rs 1.19 crore for head office renovation, Rs 10 lakh for printing and stationery and Rs 40 lakh fee for project implementation staff.
Chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, NORKA is a department of the Kerala government formed in 1996 to redress the grievances of Non-Resident Keralites.
Commenting on NORKA’s extravagance, Prasad PV, a valet driver in Dubai who lost his job three months ago, said that it is very depressing to see what NORKA is doing now.
“They know that we are jobless here. They know that we are struggling here. But they have turned a blind eye to us. And at that time, they are throwing away money,” Prasad said.
Prasad is stranded in Dubai along with 300 Keralite workers. They have accommodation and food supply. However, the company has told the workers that they have to purchase their tickets to India.
“We are struggling for money to purchase tickets. But at the same time, we are learning that NORKA is throwing away money,” Prasad added.
Meanwhile, principal secretary K Ellangovan has issued a new note on June 11 stating that Keralites coming to the state from Middle East countries in chartered flights have to do a test and possess a COVID-19 negative certificate before boarding the flight.
The decision has irked many Keralite social organisations who were arranging chartered flights from the Arab Gulf to Kerala to repatriate stranded Indians.
Vinod Raman, an Indian in UAE, said that this is a very bad decision taken by the Kerala government.
“Social organisations have come forward to organise chartered flights because the frequency of Vande Bharat Mission flights is very low. But the number of stranded people is very high. I can see that people who don’t get seats in Vande Bharat Mission flights are going through chartered flights. When social organisations are doing this, why should the government put a spanner in the works by bringing in such rules,” Vinod asked.
Even though the note was issued on June 11, on June 14, the Kerala government said that they have sent the note to the central government and a decision would be taken when the chief minister speaks with the prime minister in the coming days.
However, the note says that new COVID-19 test certificate rules will be implemented for chartered flights flying into Kerala from June 20.
Meanwhile, Rijosh S, an Indian in Oman, said that it is difficult to do an RT-PCR test in Arab Gulf countries.
“It is free of charge if we do it in government hospitals. But they will do it only if we have active symptoms. And the option left in front of us is a private hospital. Only a few hospitals are accredited to do it. And it will cost around Rs 10,000,” Rijosh said, adding that the test result will be made available in seven to nine days.
As the circular does not state which test has to be done, Keralites are confused.
“Rapid tests are cheaper. But RT-PCR tests are costly. Here in Saudi Arabia, the clinics say that Rapid Tests done by collecting blood are not considered a valid test. I talked to a clinic. They are saying that its not considered valid. They do RT-PCR tests by taking swab,” Anil Kurichumuttam, an Indian in Saudi Arabia, said.
Indians in other Gulf countries also confirmed the same.
Basil P, another Indian in Oman, said that a majority of the Indians are not settled in major cities and as the hospitals are concentrated in cities, it is quite difficult for them to visit an accredited hospital to do the COVID-19 test.
“For many to reach a hospital, it would take some three hours. A worker who is stranded without a job and struggling for food won’t have that kind of money to go to hospitals and get the COVID-19 certificate,” Basil added.
Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV2, could serve as the basis for “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.
But on April 24, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a note detailing that there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.
The WHO added that at this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.”
“People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may, therefore, increase the risks of continued transmission,” the WHO added.