(MENAFN - Arab News) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and the Saudi government for the generous assistance given to Indian workers during the amnesty period, which led to the repatriation of over 140,000 Indians back home.
Singh was speaking at a major annual gathering of overseas Indian workers entitled "Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas" (PBD) in New Delhi on Wednesday.
About 1.4 million undocumented Indian workers took advantage of the amnesty and legalized their status, which enabled them to stay back and work in Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Singh noted the presence of the 2.8 million-strong Indian diaspora in Saudi Arabia and expressed his gratitude to the Saudi government for "addressing the problems of workers."
Shihab Kottukad, a Riyadh-based social worker, was named as one of the recipients of the "Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award" (PBSA) at the PBD.
A consultant for the Non-Resident Keralite Affairs (NORKA), Shihab also heads the Pravasi Rehabilitation Center in Riyadh.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee will hand him the award, along with other recipients, at the closing session of the PBD in New Dehli today.
Shihab has been intimately involved in rescuing workers trapped in Saudi Arabia, besides being the most active volunteer of the local diplomatic mission. The PBSA, instituted by the Indian government, is the highest honor conferred on overseas Indians.
Addressing non-resident Indians, including NRIs from Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Singh said "I would like to record my appreciation for the work of the India's Ministry of External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs and the Saudi government for successfully addressing the challenges that more than a million Indian workers faced following changes in Saudi Arabia's labor policies." The Kingdom currently hosts the largest number of Indian passport holders.
Speaking on the occasion, Indian Minister of State for Aviation, C. Venugopal, announced the increase of Air India baggage allowance from 20 kg to 30 kg from Jan. 15. This will more benefit Indian workers living and working in the Kingdom, as well as other Gulf countries.
According to the minister's statement, the baggage allowance, which was slashed by 10 kg from Aug. 2013, is being reinstated to 30 kg after a large number of Indian expatriate organizations lodged complaints about the arbitrary decision.
It was also announced on this occasion that the Indian tourist visa-on-arrival for several countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, would soon be a reality as the Indian Home Ministry is expected to clear the proposal soon. In fact, "the Home Ministry's clearance would be the last and the final approval required, as it has already been approved by other ministries," said Rajeev Shukla, India's planning minister, yesterday.
The move will boost tourism traffic between the Kingdom and India, which earned 18 billion in tourism revenue in 2013 alone. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has already issued more than one million work visas, including a large number for India. Hence, a number of workers are expected to be recruited from India in the near future, said Adel Fakeih, Saudi labor minister, while addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Jan. 2.