'External affairs ministry's budget, staff insufficient'
New Delhi, May 8 (IANS) A parliamentary panel has expressed its concern at "serious under-resourcing" of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), saying its staff and budget were not commensurate with the scale and range of India's external challenges.
It also slammed the ministry for "slow progress" in resettlement work in Sri Lanka.
The Standing Committee on External Affairs, which presented its report on demands for grants of the ministry for 2012-13 in parliament Tuesday, also said that citizens continue to face a tough time in seeking basic information, getting appointments and tracking their passport applications at all the newly established Passport Seva Kendras in the country.
The report called upon the finance ministry to enhance allocation of MEA "so as to equip it to fulfil its global responsibilities".
"The Committee have expressed their concern at the serious under-resourcing of the Ministry of External Affairs whose staff and budget are not commensurate with the scale and range of India's external challenges and obligations in an increasingly globalized 21st century world," the report said.
It said that the aim of the newly-launched Passport Seva Project is timely and efficient delivery of passport services but slammed the ministry for not learning any lesson from the pilot project.
"The ministry should adopt urgent measures to resolve the chaos like situation arising at the newly established Passport Seva Kendras," the report said.
Cautioning the government about doubtful background of chip suppliers selected for e-passport project, the panel criticized "the delay" in selection of suppliers.
It said implementation of e-passport project is supposed to be a step to check misuse of passports and to make it less cumbersome for the citizens of the country to obtain it in electronic format.
"The Committee have, however, expressed their concern over the doubtful background of the French Company M/s GEMALTO selected to supply the chips for e-passports and supporting IB (Intelligence Bureau) reports regarding the association of the agents of the company as vendor with the supply of smart cards to Pakistan," the report said.
The panel also expressed its dismay at "slow progress" in the construction of Afghanistan's parliament building and recommended that the process should be expedited to ensure timely completion of the ongoing projects in the war-torn country.
Noting that Akhaura-Agartala Rail Link as an important initiative to establish railway infrastructure at border points between India and Bangladesh, the panel desired that the ministry should take up all the related issues of the project with the neighbouring country.
It said India was engaged in construction of three hydro-electric power projects in Bhutan but apprehended that the funds provided were likely to be exhausted by the second quarter of the year, and urged the government to provide sufficient funds at least to the projects which are in full swing abroad.
Observing that the government was spending a substantial amount on rehabilitation of internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka by way of constructing houses, schools, hospitals, roads etc, the committee said it has been asking the ministry that all proposed projects including building of 50,000 houses should be completed in specific timeline.
"The Committee, however, have observed that no timeline is being followed in any of the proposed projects perhaps due to bureaucratic delays and lack of cooperation."
It said the government must strive and expedite the construction of remaining houses in a time-bound manner.
The report said the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) University is yet to have its own campus, hostel and a standardized curriculum in place, library and books for issuance to students and urged the ministry to expeditiously work upon the construction so that the university can shift to its own campus.
It recommended more funds for Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and expressed concern over "poor planning and slow progress" of the Nalanda University project.
The committee also observed that the officials having working knowledge of Hindi are either not available in country's missions or are not competent enough to handle the job of interpreter during the meetings of visiting dignitaries.
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