Less than 1,000 people have joined the welfare scheme in almost two years. The pension and insurance scheme for low-paid vulnerable Indian workers abroad was launched in May 2012, following an announcement in this regard by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur in January the same year.

The scheme is aimed at benefitting over five million overseas Indian workers on temporary work permit in 17 Emigration Check Required (ECR) countries. Otherwise the strength of the Indian diaspora is estimated at over 30 million in some 130 countries.

Only those workers who have an Emigration Check Required (ECR) stamp on their passport and in the age group of 18-50 years are eligible to join the scheme. Majority of such workers are in the Gulf countries. The ECR stamp holders are those workers who have not passed grade 10 and are mostly low paid.

According to Ankit Aggarwal, director of Alankit Assignments, one of the eight agencies named by the government to implement the scheme, barely 800 workers have enrolled for the scheme so far. But officials in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs said a fresh drive will seek to popularise the scheme.

Aggarwal said that Alankit Assignments has received over 350 applications so far, while the nodal bank for the scheme Bank of Baroda has opened around 90 accounts.

Aggarwal, nevertheless, expressed hope that the scheme would get momentum in the coming months and expected around 100,000 people to join it in a year. He said Alankit Assignments would push for the scheme through local partners, especially with exchange companies and in some countries banks.

"We are tying up with several exchange companies. In UAE we have tied up with UAE Exchange and Emirates Exchange. In other countries also we are in negotiations," he said.

The scheme, named after Mahatma Gandhi, is a voluntary scheme partly funded by the government of India. It encourages and enables diaspora workers to save for old-age pension, as also for their return and resettlement, while also obtaining free life insurance cover.

Under the scheme, if a worker contribute Rs 5,000 per year, then the government of India's co-contribution will be Rs 3,000 in case of female workers and Rs 2,000 in case of male workers.

The co-contribution from the government is applicable for a maximum period of five years or for the period of employment whichever is earlier. Indian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) TP Seetharam recently announced that publicity materials would be distributed among Indian diaspora workers to popularize the scheme.

Indian diplomatic missions in the Gulf countries are also roping in community organizations in this endeavour. The government has authorized the Life Insurance Corporation of India and Bank of Baroda to deliver the scheme. It has also appointed service providers that include private companies like Alankit Assignments, with a view to making it convenient for workers to enroll in the scheme.

The scheme will be managed by "credible public sector pension funds", the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has said.


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