On December 6, 1996, the then LDF government in Kerala led by EK Nayanar formed a department to redress their grievances of the Non-resident Keralites (NRKs) and strengthen the relationship between the community and the government of Kerala. This department was the first of its kind in India. The Department of Non-resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA), through its field agency NORKA-Roots, has been instrumental in sourcing and providing life-saving medical equipment to the state when the demand for them peaked during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
NORKA-Roots, which is a public sector undertaking under the department, has over the years coordinated various activities in the Gulf region (where close to 90% of migrant workers from Kerala live). Their work is aimed at redressing the grievances of the expatriate community there – providing attestation services, conducting skill development programs, handling the welfare initiatives of the state government, assisting emergency evacuation measures when required and rehabilitating those who lost their jobs and were returning to the home state.
With the outbreak of the pandemic last year, NORKA-Roots started a 24x7 helpdesk and set up a portal to facilitate registration of Keralites around the world who were looking to return to the state. The portal also allowed people stranded in different states of the country during the lockdown to register and avail services arranged by the state government.
When the Union government allowed duty-free imports of medical equipment for use in the management of covid19 in early May this year, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appealed to expatriate Malayalis across the world to support Kerala in its battle against the pandemic. Following this, NORKA-Roots launched an initiative named ‘Care for Kerala’ and the first consignment of medical equipment was shipped from Dubai on May 25.
NORKA-Roots relied on the networks that it had established among the expatriate communities for this initiative. Contributions were obtained from organisations, which had earlier come together to donate relief material during the 2018 floods, many individuals and a few businesses. Till June 30, the last date for duty-free imports allowed by the Union government (this has now been extended to August 31), the ‘Care for Kerala’ initiative has succeeded in sourcing and providing medical equipment worth around Rs 8 crore to the state, apart from direct contributions to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) as part of the Vaccine Challenge, etc.
“More than 6000 pulse oximeters, 500 oxygen cylinders, 200 oxygen concentrators and 100 ventilators were sourced and provided as part of the initiative in the Gulf region to assist the state during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said OV Mustafa, one of the Directors of NORKA-Roots, who coordinated the ‘Care for Kerala’ initiative in the Gulf region. “Many progressive and secular organisations of pravasis and the networks established through the Loka Kerala Sabha established by the state government, helped in coordinating the relief effort,” he said.
Apart from this medical equipment, the initiative was also successful in finding sponsors to set up two oxygen plants in the hilly district of Wayanad. One of them will be built in the premises of the Sultan Bathery Taluk Hospital.
All the medical equipment were shipped to Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL), a fully government-owned company, which acts as the central procurement agency for all essential drugs and equipment for public healthcare institutions in the state. The Covid team that manages the dashboard of stock of critical items decides where the equipment should be sent from KMSCL according to their assessment of the demand in different areas.
Even as the efforts continue to make use of the services of the expatriate communities in the needs and development of the state, NORKA-Roots is widening Santhwana, a distress relief scheme aimed at providing time-bound financial support to pravasis returning to the homeland. Last week, they announced that they were starting a support scheme named ‘Pravasi Thanal’ for unmarried daughters of NRKs who lost their lives due to Covid-19. This is being done through the financial support from RP foundation, whose founder businessman Ravi Pillai (also one of the Directors of NORKA-Roots) had set up a Covid assistance fund last month.