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Indian CG upbeat about promising future for expats Discussions on to ease travel restrictions with options of signing air bubble agreement
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 29 - 03 - 2021


Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Mohammed Shahid Alam, the new consul general of India, is upbeat about a promising future for the 2.5 million Indian community in Saudi Arabia in the post pandemic scenario.
"This is a very difficult and challenging time for many Indians as well as for others due to the pandemic situation. Like every bad time, this phase too will pass and we will come out of it triumphant," he said in an exclusive interview with Saudi Gazette.
He also drew attention to the plethora of opportunities for expatriates in the new Saudi Arabia that features tapping of full potential of new technologies and giant projects under the Kingdom's Vision 2030.
Reacting to the difficulties faced by the Indian community regarding the travel ban, Alam said that discussions are on between both sides to ease the restrictions with options like signing of an air bubble agreement, but the situation is rapidly evolving and changing due to spike in cases of coronavirus.
"Both sides are serious about this and we remain optimistic and continue holding consultations in this respect," he said.
Alam expressed confidence that the enterprising and hard-working Indians, who have proven their capability and adaptability to meet any difficult situations, would survive the current unprecedented situation.
"Even though many Indians have lost jobs and left the Kingdom, there are more jobs opening up thanks to the vast opportunities in giant projects under the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and Riyadh's announcement about welcoming both local and international talent.
"The government of India has taken this matter seriously and there are initiatives to upskill and reskill the Gulf returnees so as to enable them to return and take up challenging careers in the vibrant employment market," he said.
The consul general said that his topmost priority is to further promote the welfare of the one-million strong Indian community in the western region as well as to bolster India-Saudi ties — especially in economic, cultural and strategic domains.
He thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for the great support and care for the Indians, who represent the largest expatriate community, in their most distressing time, especially provision of free coronavirus treatment and vaccine.
Highlighting the great scope for cementing strategic ties between Saudi Arabia and India, Alam said that the rapport between the two leaderships is amazing.
"Saudi Arabia has recognized India as one of the eight strategic partners and both sides and leaderships are meeting regularly. During the COVID-19 pandemic situation, several phone conversations were held between the top leaders of the two countries, the latest of which was between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman earlier this month.
"There are too much of complementarities between the two great nations that are embracing progressive changes and are keen to cement their centuries-old relations," he said, while noting that the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and Indian prime minister's Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) are complementary to each other, and that Atmanirbhar Bharat is an important policy vision that came out of the coronavirus challenge more strongly.
Hailing Saudi Arabia's emergence as one among of the world's few most resilient countries in its effective handling of the pandemic, Alam said that both countries have the shared challenges collectively. The leaderships of both countries are fully aware about the need to have more coordinated joint fight against the pandemic and other common challenges.
"Apart from dealing with the challenges, the two countries are coming over with solutions for the entire world in terms of either vaccine or humanitarian help. As of March 22, India's share is 38.95 percent of all the vaccines rolled out globally," he said, while recalling his role in facilitating shipment of paracetamol to the Gulf countries well before development of the vaccine while handling the Gulf Desk at India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
State of full readiness for Hajj
Alam said India's Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Hajj Mission in the Kingdom are in the state of full readiness after putting all things on board for the upcoming Hajj. "We have not received any official confirmation regarding the Hajj operation but we still remain optimistic. We are regularly following up with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, and the moment we get the green signal from the Saudi authorities, we will execute the plan," he said.
The diplomat said that he is waiting to meet the minister shortly, after requesting for an appointment. He also recalled the excellent cooperation and support that he had received from the ministry during his tenure as Hajj consul. "It's amazing and was extremely blessed to get an opportunity to serve around 500,000 pilgrims during my three-year tenure earlier."
VIP treatment for visitors
Alam said that he considers all visitors to the consulate, including Saudis and members of the Indian community, as VIPs.
"The first thing I did after assuming office on March 14 was give instructions to my colleagues that every visitor to the consulate should be treated with respect and dignity that they deserve, and serve them with tea/coffee and water.
"The visitors should feel comfortable that they are part of the consulate and as members of the community have equal rights at the consulate and that we are just first among the equals," he said, adding that the face-lift of the Pravasi Bharatiya Service Kendra center has been completed.
The premises has been fully furnished and whitewashed with rearranged seating facilities so as to ensure the comfort of visitors, and this was done before doing the face-lift of the consul general's office.
Alam now focuses on improving internal efficiency of the consulate facilities and services with optimal use of the information and communication technologies.
"My two-year experience at the MEA headquarters has enabled me to feel the pulse of the nation and helped me learn to cope with challenges. Coupled with this, the previous close association with the Indian community would also be instrumental in serving them in the best manner," he said.
He added, "Coming back to a blessed country, which I consider my second home, is always a pleasure as it gives me a golden opportunity to carry on the excellent work done by my predecessors."
Alam assumed office on March 14, succeeding Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh, who left the Kingdom on July 6, 2020. He formally presented Commission of Appointment to Hani Bin Abdullah Mominah, director general of the Makkah Branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 16.
Before assuming office, Alam served as deputy secretary at the MEA headquarters in New Delhi and was in charge of the Gulf Desk, consisting of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
Dr. Shakeela Khatun is the wife of Alam, who hails from Dhanbad in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. He had completed IFS training in New Delhi in June 2010, and later underwent Arabic language training while serving India's Embassy in Cairo during 2012 -14.
He had served as second secretary at Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi in 2014 and 2015 before being appointed as consul of Haj and deputy consul general in Jeddah in November 2015. At the end of the tenure, he left the Kingdom on March 29, 2019 to join MEA headquarters.


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