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Dubai: The Kerala government recently entered into an agreement with Air India for free repatriation of bodies of distressed Keralites in the Gulf countries, including the UAE.

However, social workers in the UAE are questioning the efficacy of the south Indian state’s scheme alleging it is a duplication of service offered by Indian missions. They have also claimed that there will be hardly any beneficiary since it is to transport the mortal remains of a distressed Keralite only if there is no financial assistance from the sponsor or the Indian mission.

In the annual budget speech in January, the state’s finance minister Thomas Isaac had said the Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs (Norka) will bear the repatriation costs of Malayali expatriates’ bodies from abroad.There are an estimated one million Kearlites in the UAE,

After signing the pact with Air India on November 26, Norka, however, made it clear that the scheme will be available only in the cases when there is no aid from employer/sponsor or embassy.

Free ambulance service

The scheme also provides free ambulance service to transport the body from the respective airports to the houses of the deceased.

However, social workers providing voluntary service for repatriation of mortal remains pointed out that sponsors or employers are legally bound to repatriate the mortal remains of UAE residents. In case the sponsors are not in a position to do so, the Indian missions here bear the cost of repatriation in deserving cases through the Indian Community Welfare Fund.

“To my knowledge, no Indian’s body lies here for want of money for repatriation,” said Naseer Vatanapally.

“The Indian missions have been bearing all the expenses related to repatriation of mortal remains in the case of needy people. This is usually more than Dh5500. They also offer free ticket to a person accompanying the body.”

He believes there will be hardly any beneficiary for the Norka scheme. “If the state government really wants to support free repatriation, they can make an agreement to shoulder half of the expenses with the central government’s fund. Perhaps one party can bear the cost of cargo and flight ticket and the other can take care of the rest of the expenses,” Vatanappally suggested.

He said the state government could also support repatriation of bedridden patients.

Assistance to families

Nazar Nandi, another social worker, said the scheme is a duplication of service and the state government should divert the resources for this to assist families struggling with debts and imprisonment.

“What Norka can do instead is to offer assistance to families struggling with bad debts in deserving cases and those who are unable to pay school fees for the children when the father is imprisoned or facing cases.”

“The scheme may be of benefit in other foreign countries where the ICWF support is not offered to the distressed. But, it does not make sense to have this scheme here in the Gulf countries, especially in the UAE where the Indian missions are doing a great job,” he added.

Norka’s response

When contacted, Norka CEO Harikrishnan Namboothiri told Gulf News over phone from Kerala on Sunday.

“We have just launched the scheme. We have already helped with repatriation of a worker from Saudi Arabia last week. It will be premature to make comments at this stage about how many will benefit. Let’s wait and see. Even before launching the scheme, we have supported repatriation of bodies. We will continue to do that. It will be enforced on a case-to-case basis.”

Friends and relatives of the deceased can apply for help through norkaroots.org