New Delhi, Sept. 8: The external affairs ministry forked out over Rs 800 crore in rent in the last three years for the buildings it occupies abroad.
In the same period, it spent only a little over a third that sum buying properties — at a time property prices have fallen the world over.
South Block’s failure to better utilise its budget allocation by buying properties abroad has repeatedly been frowned upon by parliamentary standing committees.
In a report tabled last May, a standing committee observed: “In view of the ministry’s presence and permanent diplomatic engagement with almost all the countries of the world, it would be important for the ministry to observe economy and reduce rental liabilities... and acquire/purchase buildings for office space abroad.”
The committee said it had been “stressing upon” the ministry “the need to improve property management”. It said it would like to “reiterate (the) earlier recommendation that sincere and concerted efforts should be made to acquire/purchase maximum properties utilising the opportune time of low property prices worldwide”.
But the ministry’s go-slow in buying properties and high spending on rent continues. The ministry needs to buy or rent properties abroad for its embassies, high commissions, consulates, liaison offices, Indian Cultural Centres and staff quarters.
South Block’s poor planning over the years gets exposed if one considers that of the 176 properties it pays rent for abroad, as many as 121 are either embassies or high commissions. Indian embassies even in major capitals such as Islamabad, Colombo, Dhaka, Ottawa, Singapore, Wellington, Berlin, Kathmandu, Pretoria, Brasilia and Riyadh operate out of rented accommodation.
Even in New Delhi, the ministry pays a substantial sum as rent for its offices spread across several government buildings — more than half a century after conceiving a plan in the 1950s to have its own headquarters.
The ministry was eventually allotted 7.78 acres in the heart of New Delhi, barely a couple of kilometres from Raisina Hill, in 1992. After years of delay construction eventually began in mid-2006.
The stately red sandstone building was finally inaugurated last year. Jawahar Bhavan will allow the ministry to have under one roof virtually all its offices, perhaps apart from the chambers of its topmost officials in South Block.