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Rs 30 lakh price tag on Digvijay new-look office

New Delhi, Jan. 16: His contribution to India’s foreign policy may not be all that visible, but minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh has caught South Block’s imagination with his “lavish” refurbishing of his office.

The entire parquet has been changed and so have the furniture and draperies. Most of the objet d’art that decorated the office when Omar Abdullah was the occupant have been replaced. New Persian rugs adorn the room.

Officials in the ministry are tight-lipped about how much money has gone into the spruce-up bid. But knowledgeable sources in South Block say Singh has spent close to Rs 30 lakh to give his office a new look fit enough to receive “dignitaries and ambassadors” from different corners of the world. The official figure is being worked out by the various departments involved in the facelift.

The officials pointed out that the effort was part of the overall drive launched by the ministry to keep South Block clean, as it has been designated a “heritage building”. A senior official argued that there was “a certain dignity and stature” that go with the minister’s office and, since he receives important visitors from across the globe, the room had a “representational aspect”.

“In every democracy throughout the world, a minister or a senior official has the right to bring about changes in his office to suit his style and taste. I don’t understand why this song and dance is being made about Singh’s room,” the official said.

The minister’s office is not apologetic either. Asked if there is a limit to what a minister can spend in re-decorating his office, one of Singh’s aides said “it is for officials in the establishment division of the ministry to make an assessment and tell the minister if he was exceeding the ceiling”.

The officials also pointed out that if a minister wanted his office to be refurbished in a certain manner it is seldom questioned. “They are elected representatives of the people. We cannot question them on such matters,” one official said.

For most of the six months that Singh has been in the ministry, he had used his earlier predecessor Krishnam Raju’s room. But he decided to take over the bigger office soon after Abdullah’s resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was only a few days ago that he decided to move into his new office, but only after he was satisfied that the room has been redecorated as he wanted.

Singh is the fifth minister of state for foreign affairs since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power in the summer of 1998. Of the five, only Raju was given the smaller room in South Block which was earlier used by Salman Khursheed when he held the post under foreign minister Dinesh Singh. In the past five years, four junior ministers have used the bigger office and changed it accordingly to suit their style and temperament.

The trend started with Vasundhara Raje, who came to occupy that office in 1998. She is credited with tastefully doing up the wooden flooring with matching curtains and furniture and other objet d’art to “lift the mood” in the otherwise gloomy office.

Her successors — Ajit Panja and Abdullah — brought about minor changes when they moved in. But now the entire décor, including the flooring, has been changed to suit Singh.

“Vasundhara Raje’s office was nice and tastefully done. But it was too feminine,” a senior official said, justifying the refurbishing. “It looks more office-like now.”

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