(MENAFN - Arab News) Outgoing indian consul general faiz ahmed kidwai who is leaving after serving here for three years says it was a 'blessing from god" to have had a posting in saudi arabia
In a wide-ranging interview kidwai praised the saudi government for providing free haj services for millions of muslims every year. he also outlined the various achievements of the mission under his watch including helping thousands of indian workers rectify their status under the kingdom's saudization program
'some people talk about the occasional fires and stampedes that occur during the haj but often ignore the saudi government's massive operations and arrangements to make this huge annual gathering a big success. we should appreciate that all these services are provided free of charge.
He stressed the need to establish community schools for the children of indian workers living in makkah and madinah outside the two cities. this is because the saudi government does not allow embassies to open community schools in the holy cities
Kidwai said the past three years had seen him focus on the haj the nitaqat system and amnesty period and improving the consulate's services.
'we have improved the quality of pilgrim accommodation in makkah and madinah. we hired bigger and newer buildings with better amenities. we previously had 620 buildings but this huge number created many logistical problems so we decided to reduce it to 420 last year."
'ideally one flight of pilgrims could be accommodated in one building and it was much easier for us to handle. we also worked to achieve uniformity in amenities at buildings. over the last two years we purchased 250000 bed sheets for pilgrims.
Kidwai said the consulate also provided sim cards to pilgrims in india and a baggage check-in service with the support of a cargo agent. 'we get the baggage from the residences of pilgrims in makkah and madinah 24 hours before their flights and deliver them to the airport. this reduced flight delays considerably. in the first year we faced tremendous resistance from pilgrims because they were not ready to hand their baggage to the agent. now they are very happy with it.
He said the kingdom's general authority of civil aviation encouraged other countries to do the same. 'now many countries are providing a city check-in service for their pilgrims. we are happy to say that india introduced this service first.
Kidwai said the consulate has also introduced measures to make life more comfortable and private for pilgrims especially families. 'to address this issue we set up a computer program that enabled us to provide separate rooms for a maximum number of families.
'we have also introduced a successful system to accomodate elderly pilgrims in buildings closer to the grand mosque. we have 21 embarkation points for pilgrims in india and we asked the local haj committee to send all the elderly pilgrims on the first flight.
Kidwai said that one of his greatest challenges was helping workers during the amnesty period. 'we had no idea of the size of the problem. the labor ministry has reported that 1.4 million indians benefited from its services during the amnesty including changing sponsors and professions and having iqamas issued to them. about 200000 indians left the kingdom during the amnesty period. they represent less than 10 percent of indians (2.8 million) in the country.
During the amnesty period the indian consulate also set up 18 counters to help workers including determining their status as runaways and finding them jobs. 'we helped more than 5000 people find employment by holding two job fairs. we asked companies to open their stalls at the consulate to recruit people" he said.
'our staff members worked 24 hours a day at the deportation center to provide assistance with the support of community organizations. every tuesday we distributed at least 2000 food packets. we provided about 200 air tickets to people who could not afford it. the consulate has received about 5000 passports of indians who had run away from their sponsors and has set up a database for them.
Kidwai said measures are in place to help prisoners in saudi jails. 'many of them have been released with the support of community funds. we are not informed when an indian is jailed but learn about it during regular visits to jails. we have set up a database of prisoners. we make sure prisoners are released after completing their sentences" he said
'we have worked out a plan to provide legal assistance to indians in trouble. newly recruited drivers should not drive vehicles here before getting driver's licenses and make sure their vehicles are insured. if they are involved in an accident without these documents they would have to pay blood money of up to sr500000 to the accident victims.
He believes that allah almighty planned for him to serve in the kingdom. 'i was selected for the position from a shortlist of five candidates which took into consideration my performance as a collector in hoshangabad on the bank of narmada where i managed three annual religious festivals for about 800000 people.
'my wife kausar daughter aliya and i had apprehensions before coming here but having worked here i realized that it was the best posting i have ever had professionally personally spiritually and even financially. it was a great blessing from god. i will be returning to madhya pradesh after seven years of service outside the state" he said.