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Inspector for South Block in sight

New Delhi, Oct. 17: The foreign ministry is likely to have its first “inspector” to make its functioning more focused and transparent.

Meera Shankar, former joint secretary (north), who was recently promoted as additional secretary, may be appointed to the post.

The foreign policy establishments in the US, the UK and some other Western countries have an inspector. In South Block, an inspector’s role was introduced earlier but it dealt mainly with economic issues, not with political or policy matters.

The post was discontinued in 1989. A committee headed by India’s former special representative in Afghanistan, Sati Lambah, which was asked to look into the working of the ministry and recommend changes, had suggested the appointment of an inspector.

The ministry yesterday got a new face as Navtej Sarna took over from Nirupama Rao as the spokesperson and joint secretary of the external publicity division. Rao, who has become an additional secretary, will look after the South Block administration.

Sarna, a 1980 batch IFS officer, has served in Teheran, Thimphu, Warsaw, Moscow and India’s permanent mission in Geneva, besides being in charge of press and culture at the Indian embassy in Washington. He was also officer on special duty (press relations) at the external publicity division and the deputy chief of protocol.

Although Shankar is the likely choice for the inspector’s post, it is not clear when she will be in a position to take charge of the new office.

She had been looking after Nepal for many years and the fast-paced political developments in Kathmandu has made the top bosses in South Block rethink on whether she should be moved now.

Since an official announcement has not yet been made, indications are that Shankar may be asked to continue looking after Nepal for a while.

The post is part of the reforms initiated by foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal since taking charge of the foreign service a few months ago. He has already changed the nomenclature of many divisions and re-distributed the work of many senior officials in the ministry.

South Block insiders said the inspector is supposed to be the interface between the various divisions and their respective missions.

The job entails frequent visits to key capitals to make an on-the-spot assessment of the working of the missions — especially on whether they are achieving the foreign policy targets.

A close liaison between the inspector and the department of administration will also be required since there will be suggestions regarding staff strength in embassies and consulates.

The inspector’s recommendations are taken very seriously in other countries and often factored into their foreign policy.

Although the inspector’s role in India will evolve over the years, the post’s creation signals the seriousness with which Sibal is trying to reshape the workings of the foreign ministry.

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