Skip to main content

Urgent need to study cause of large number of natural deaths in Gulf countries


By Venkatesh Nayak*

According to data tabled in Parliament in April 2018, there are 87.76 lakh (8.77 million) Indians in six Gulf countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While replying to an Unstarred Question (#6091) raised in the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister of State for External Affairs said, during the first half of this financial year alone (between April-September 2018), blue-collared Indian workers in these countries had remitted USD 33.47 Billion back home.
Not much is known about the human cost of such earnings which swell up the country’s forex reserves quietly. My recent RTI intervention and research of proceedings in Parliament has revealed that between 2012 and mid-2018 more than 24,570 Indian Workers died in these Gulf countries. This works out to an average of more than 10 deaths per day. For every US$ 1 Billion they remitted to India during the same period there were at least 117 deaths of Indian Workers in Gulf countries.

The RTI Intervention

In August 2018, I submitted a request for information under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) to the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) through the Central Government’s RTI Online filing facility seeking the following information:
“1) The year-wise list of the names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers who died in the countries of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Quwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 01 January, 2012 till date; and
2) The cause of death as mentioned in the death certificates of every deceased Indian worker referred to at para 1 above for the same period.”
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) promptly transferred the RTI application to the CPIOs of the Indian Embassies situated in the six Gulf countries. It appears that MEA does not maintain data about the deaths of Indian Workers unless queries are raised in Parliament.
The CPIO of the Embassy of Kuwait replied that most of the details regarding deaths of Indian Workers in that country was available online on their official website. Indeed, month-wise data is available on this website, but only 2014 onwards. The CPIOs of the Indian Embassies in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar provided year-wise data about deaths of Indian Workers in those countries. The Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia provided year-wise data after I filed a first appeal against the CPIO’s initial rejection order.
Both the CPIO and the First Appellate Authority of the Indian Embassy in UAE refused to provide even this data citing Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act which exempts the disclosure of personal information which may cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual or where the disclosure has no relationship to any public activity or interest.
Despite showing the good practice of proactive information disclosure adopted by the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, the Embassy in UAE continues to refuse even basic data. The other Indian Embassies have refused details regarding the deaths of Indian Workers sought in the RTI application by either citing Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act or by claiming that the information was held in multiple files in disaggregate form. They are striving to adopt the lowest common denominator instead of following the sterling example of the Indian Mission in Kuwait.

Analysis of the data regarding the deaths of Indian Workers in Gulf countries

In order to fill up the gaps in the data (between 2012-2013 which the Indian Embassy in Kuwait did not display) and the data which UAE refused to disclose, I researched the websites of the Lok Sabha (Lower House) and the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) in Parliament and found some data. A preliminary analysis of these collated datasets indicates the following trends:
1) Available data indicates, at least 24,570 Indian Workers died in the six Gulf countries between 2012 and mid-2018. This number could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly. This amounts to more than 10 deaths per day during this period;
2) At 10,416, most number of deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia during this period while Bahrain accounted for the least number, i.e., 1,317 deaths;
3) The most number of deaths occurred in 2015 – 4,702 whereas the smallest number was reported in 2012- 2,375. By July-August 2018, already 1,656 deaths had occurred; and
4) Only the CPIO of the Indian Embassy in Qatar provided some information about the cause of deaths. While more than 80% of the deaths have been attributed to natural causes, almost 14% of the deaths occurred in accidents. Almost 6% of these deaths were due to suicides.

Comparing datasets of deaths with datasets relating to remittances

Most of the Indian diaspora is also a very important source of forex earnings for the country. The World Bank publishes estimates of remittances from every country sent to every other country on the globe in its annual Migration Reports. Although these figures are estimates only, they have received currency in official circles as the Central Government often reports from these figures when questions regarding remittances are raised in Parliament. However, while World Bank publishes data based on the calendar year, the Reserve Bank of India publishes weekly remittance data based on the financial year cycle. Nevertheless country-wise data regarding remittances is not traceable on RBI’s website.
A comparative analysis of the data regarding remittances received from Indians working in Gulf countries with the datasets relating to death reveals the following preliminary results:
1) Indians working in Gulf countries accounted for more than half of the remittance that India received from all over the world between 2012-2017. While Indian received a total of US$ 410.33 Billion in remittances from the world over, remittances from the Gulf countries accounted for US$ 209.07 Billion;
2) According to World Bank estimates, UAE topped the list of Gulf countries from which remittances were received at US$ 72.30 Billion followed by Saudi Arabia (US$ 62.60 billion); Kuwait (US$ 25.77 Billion); Qatar (US$ 22.57 billion); Oman (US$ 18.63 Billion) and Bahrain came last with US$ 7.19 Billion;
3) When compared with the dataset regarding deaths of Indian workers obtained through RTI and parliamentary records, there were more than 187 deaths for every US$ Billion received from Oman during 2012-17; more than 183 deaths for every US$ Billion received from Bahrain and 162 deaths for every US$ Billion received from Saudi Arabia. Qatar accounted for more than 74 deaths for every US$ Billion received while the lowest figure of 71 deaths for every US$ Billion received was from UAE;
4) Interestingly, while UAE was the source of the highest amount of remittances from Indian Workers during the years 2012-2017 (US$ 72.3 Billion), it also had the lowest deaths per US$ Billion remitted to India (a little more than 71 deaths). Conversely, Bahrain which came at the bottom of the list in terms of total remittances during the same period (US$ 7.19 Billion only), stands at second place in terms of the number of deaths of Indian Workers per US$ Billion remitted (a little more than 183 deaths). In other words every US$ Billion earned by Indian Workers remitted from Bahrain cost much more in terms of deaths than a similar amount remitted from UAE;
5) A comparison of the remittances data from Gulf countries with the remittances from the Indian diaspora in the advanced countries of the western world, namely, UK, USA and Canada shows some interesting trends. Indian Workers in the UAE remitted US$ 72.3 Billion between 2012-2017 while remittances from Indians in USA were only US$ 68.37 Billion during this period. Remittances from the UK at US$ 23 Billion and a mere US$ 17.3 Billion from Canada compare poorly with the remittances that Indian Workers sent from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait during the same period. However, the Indian diaspora in the developed world seems to wield more political influence in India than the Indian worker community eking out a living in Gulf countries. This phenomenon also needs a deeper examination from researchers and academics;
6) Further, remittance from Nepal to India (US$ 17.37 Billion) was only slightly lower than the remittance from Canada to India (US$ 17.39 Billion) between 2012-2017. While remittances from Singapore amounted to only US$ 5.5 Billion during this period, remittances from Bangladesh to India stood at US$ 4.7 Billion. Remittances from Pakistan and Sri Lanka individually during the same period were higher than the remittance received from Indian Workers in Bahrain. Interestingly, remittance data from Pakistan to India is available only for the years 2013-2014 (US$ 9.46 Billion). The World Bank Migration Reports indicate that similar data was not made available by the authorities in Pakistan for other years covered by this study. Similarly, the Central Government was not able to provide data about the number of persons of Indian origin or NRIs in Pakistan in its reply tabled in the Lok Sabha in April 2018;
7) It appears that blue collared workers are contributing more to India’s forex kitty than the white-collared workers in the developed countries. However, as a proportion of the total forex reserves at the end of the calendar year the share of the remittances seems to be declining in recent years. In 2012 remittances from Gulf countries were equal to 12.57% of the forex reserves (excluding gold and Special Drawing Rights) declared by RBI for the week ending 29 December. In 2017 the remittances were only 9.97% of the year-end forex reserves declared by RBI; and
8) According to data tabled in Parliament by the Central Government, 7.75 lakh Indian workers were issued emigration clearances (ECR) in 2014 enabling them to work in the six Gulf countries. This number has since fallen year after year, ever since. 7.6 lakh workers were issued ECR clearances in 2015, 5.07 lakh workers issued ECR in 2016. During the first 10 months of 2018 only 3.46 lakh ECRs were issued by the Central Government. The number of ECRs seems to have halved since 2014. In its reply to an Unstarred Question raised in the Lok Sabha, the Government also listed a slew of measures put in place to provide safeguards for Indian Workers in Gulf countries. However none of these measures include any mention of steps taken to study the phenomenon of deaths of Indian Workers in Gulf countries.
The above comparison is not an attempt to label the remittances from the Gulf as blood money. Instead the purpose of this comparative analysis is to highlight the shockingly large number of deaths of Indian Workers in Gulf countries. This phenomenon requires urgent examination. It is hoped that the Central Government will start this exercise by making more information about deaths of Indian Workers in these countries public. There is an urgent need to commission experts to study the cause of deaths — especially the large number of deaths labelled in Qatar as “natural deaths” and examine the conditions under which Indians work there and identify measures that will prevent avoidable deaths.
Meanwhile, I will file an appeal with the Central Information Commission to examine the good practice of the Indian Embassy in Kuwait and direct the other Embassies to emulate their standard of proactive information disclosure regarding the deaths of Indian Workers abroad.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Hindutva patriotism: State-sponsored effort to construct religion-based national identity

By Harasankar Adhikari Rabindranath Tagore (1908) said, "Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. "I will not buy glass for a diamond, and I will never let patriotism triumph over humanity as long as I live." Tagore’s view stands in sharp contrast to what we are witnessing today, when patriotism means religious differences between the majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Our secular nation is gradually disobeying its secular nature and it is being patronised by political leaders and their narrow politics. India’s unique character of ‘unity in diversity’ is trying to be saffronised. Hindu extremism (Hindutvavadis) generates a culture of religious intolerance. Democratic India is based upon the ideology of equality of all. This nation is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy lies in its being able to satisfy its various component communities that their interests will be safeguarded by the Indian state