India Seeks Bank Kiosks at Singapore Worker Dorms After Riot

The Indian High Commission has asked banks operating in Singapore to set up money-remittance kiosks at workers’ dormitories after a riot in the Little India district led to restrictions in the area.

The high commission in Singapore said workers requested more of these machines smaller than the size of automated teller machines following visits to dormitories in the past few months. Most workers now brave the crowds on Sundays in Little India, where Singapore’s first riot in more than four decades took place on Dec. 8, to send funds back home on their days off.

“One of the issues mentioned in these visits was that of sending back money home as limited facilities are available in and around the dormitories,” Vijay Thakur Singh, India’s high commissioner in Singapore, said in an interview on Feb. 13. “One of the ideas that emerged was to see whether banks, including Indian banks can help in this.”

The high commission has stepped up dormitory visits in the past few months, Singh said. About 400 people took part in the riot, where police vehicles, an ambulance and private cars were set ablaze, toppled or damaged. Alcohol was banned on weekends in the area and the frequency of bus services that ferried workers from dormitories to the neighborhood was reduced.

A total of 25 people, all of them Indian nationals, were charged, while 57 workers were deported. Of the 213 who were issued with warnings, 179 were Indians and the rest were from Bangladesh, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Public Inquiry

A public inquiry on the riot starts tomorrow and the government has given the police more power to maintain public order in the district known for its Hindu temples, Indian eateries and a 24-hour department store called Mustafa Centre.

“If remittance can be offered near where they live, they would not have to travel to Little India for this,” Simon Lee, secretary-general of the Dormitory Association of Singapore, said by phone. “That can reduce the crowds there.”

State Bank of India and ICICI Bank Ltd., India’s two biggest lenders, have licenses to set up 25 points of doing business in Singapore. ICICI has three remittance kiosks in the city, one at its branch in the financial district and another in Little India, and a third as a standalone machine at Westlite Dormitory in a western suburb, according to its website.

“Apart from meeting friends and buying familiar Indian foods at reasonable prices, the reason we go to Little India on Sundays is to transfer money,” Veera Reddy, a 34-year-old construction worker from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, said as he sent funds home at the Westlite kiosk. “If more of these are set up across dormitories, it can save multiple trips to Little India.”

Workers’ Centre

The Migrant Workers’ Centre in Singapore has also advocated in the past for money remittance services to be established in or close to worker dormitories, Chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said in an e-mailed statement.

State Bank of India has seven branches and more than 20 ATM machines in the city-state, according to its website, without giving details on remittance kiosks. State Bank of India and ICICI didn’t respond to phone and e-mailed queries.

Singapore’s Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament last month that the government has built recreational centers in the past five years for foreign workers with amenities including sports facilities, supermarkets and remittance services.

“The reality is that they can never totally replace popular spots like Little India, which have naturally evolved over time to cater to foreign workers’ physical, and importantly, their emotional needs,” Tan said.

Construction Workers

Singapore had 306,500 foreign construction workers as of June, according to data from the Ministry of Manpower’s website. Indian nationals make up the biggest group of migrant workers living in the city’s dormitories, or about 30 percent to 40 percent, according to Dormitory Association’s Lee.

The well-being of Indian nationals is “a shared objective between the Indian and Singapore governments, and we’re constantly in dialogue with Singapore authorities, including the Ministry of Manpower,” Singh said, adding that getting more kiosks may also involve regulatory issues.

Tan said in the Parliament speech that Singh had shared that there’s “no discontent discerned” among Indian nationals in Singapore.

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