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Valedictory Address by Foreign Secretary at the eighth edition of Good Governance Day celebrations

December 21, 2021

Namaskar

1. This important event that we have all participated in today is a part of a larger and more important commemoration in our national journey. We are celebrating the 75th anniversary of our independence under the banner of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. I would like to begin by highlighting the role that the Ministry of External Affairs plays in commemorating it across the world. I am happy to inform you that more than 5,000 events have already been organized across the world by our Missions and Posts abroad since March 2021. A similar number of events will be organized between now and August 2022.

2. Good Governance Week, being celebrated this week as part of AKAM, is not just an opportunity for us to recount some of the initiatives taken up by the government in the last few years. It also is an occasion to reflect on how we can further improve outcomes, introduce innovations, effect efficiencies, and economies, and identify best practices that can be replicated and scaled up.

3. It was a privilege to hear from External Affairs Minister and the Ministers of State for External Affairs in the sessions held earlier today.

4. The Ministers have reaffirmed the importance that this Ministry, and its network of missions and posts across the world, accords to the dictum of ‘Minimum Government – Maximum Governance’ articulated by Prime Minister. They have also reaffirmed the centrality of the idea of "Diplomacy for Development” in our operations.

5. The choice of topics that were discussed today, Passports, Vande Bharat, Vaccine Maitri, International Yoga Day and Ayurveda Day and Innovations in Missions and Posts today gives us an idea of the breadth of this Ministry’s operations and its changing and evolving nature.

6. The Ministry of External Affairs runs a worldwide public service delivery system that that delivers passports, visas, OCI cards and a variety of consular services.

7. An enormous effort has gone into implementing a Passport Seva Project (PSP) to improve service delivery and the applicant experience. The Ministry has succeeded in making the process of obtaining a passport simpler and faster.

8. Using a PPP model, Ministry of External Affairs has transformed the front-end or the outward facing side of its consular operations. It has used technology to create an IT backbone and interfaces. Back office operations have also been significantly altered by the use of technology. An international and countrywide networked environment has been created that links concerned agencies. These include various units of the Ministry, State Police Departments that conduct physical verification of the applicant's credentials, and India Post for effective delivery of passports. Innovations like the Post Office Passport Seva Kendra (POPSK) have further strengthened this network and are bringing passport services literally to the doorsteps of citizens.

9. A wide array of innovative, technology-based solutions have also been designed and implemented by our Missions and Posts abroad to help businesses, citizens and our Diaspora.

10. The MADAD portal launched in 2015 provides for online registration, resolution and tracking of grievances by Indians in distress abroad.

11. The E-SANAD portal launched in 2017 facilitates online verification of the documents with an objective to extend contactless, cashless and paperless document apostille service to applicants in India as well as abroad.

12. The Global Pravasi RISHTA Portal launched in 2020 is a Single Point Platform for sharing information linking Embassies and Consulates with the Diaspora that provides information on consular services, events, governmental initiatives while seeking feedback.

13. I am also happy to inform you that the Ministry has embraced technology in its international functioning. Internal platforms such as MEADOWS are moving us in the direction of a paperless office.

14. The Covid pandemic has been the greatest shock to the international system since World War II. It was a health catastrophe that delivered an enormous economic shock.

15. The Ministry of External Affairs, like the rest of government and society, was faced with an unprecedented situation. India is a country with a global presence and global interests. It is a country with a major diaspora, with a globalized economy that is linked with global capital, technology, and trade flows. The disruptions caused by the pandemic therefore have had a significant and continuing effect

16. The Ministry responded with agility, with speed and with scale to the extraordinary challenges that it was confronted with.

17. A de novo unit, the COVID Cell, that worked 24*7 to coordinate our COVID related operations, was created. This was resourced appropriately and coordinated with our diplomatic Missions and multiple stakeholders in India and abroad. Amongst other things, it worked on the Vande Bharat Mission - the largest logistical mission of its type ever undertaken. It played an equally central role with the Government of India’s Empowered Groups to mount a global procurement operation to source critical medical supplies during both the first and second waves. We were also represented on the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 and in the Task Force on the COVID-19 vaccines.

18. I do not believe that this is the last time an inter-agency response of this magnitude will be required. This capacity to react flexibly and to scale up rapidly in a short time will be central to our effectiveness in the years to come. As such, the Covid Cell has now been institutionalised as the Rapid Response Cell in the MEA, a recognition of the long-term responsibility that health emergencies and HADR exigencies will place on our diplomacy.

19. Vande Bharat Mission is a case study in governance response to an unexpected challenge. It was a complex inter-agency process that was unprecedented in its size and complexity. The entire population of Indians stranded in hundreds of locations was "mapped” using technology driven applications. They were assigned priorities. Flight schedules and manifests were worked out. The capacity to process arrivals had to be repurposed to pandemic realities. SOPs for handling passengers returning from abroad, including protocols for quarantine etc were generated. Departure processes around the world had to be navigated. These were just some of the challenges that were confronted.

20. MEA worked closely with other Ministries and Departments and State Governments during this process.

21. As the world began to unlock and reopen, the Ministry worked on next steps. It facilitated Air Bubble arrangements to assist movement of persons.

22. It has also worked on mutual recognition of vaccine certificates that allows Indians to travel safely and with reduced inconvenience. As of today we have such understandings with more than a hundred countries.

23. Indian missions and posts abroad also reacted with speed to assist Indians after Covid related restrictions were imposed. The assistance varied based on the needs of the people. 24x7 Covid emergency helplines were set up to assist Indian nationals in need. Missions worked on timely dissemination of local government guidelines on health, preventive measures, provided medical facilities, and facilitated travel logistics. Missions managed logistics at points of departure. They played an important role in arranging chartered flights. Other services extended from supply of masks and sanitizers to food kits. In several cases aid, boarding & lodging, and even tickets in the most deserving cases, were arranged.

24. These initiatives were conducted by the Missions using existing resources such as the Indian Community Welfare Fund and by leveraging partnerships with the local Indian community and other local entities.

25. Another contemporary case that demonstrates the need for flexible and rapid response capacity relates to procurement. The country confronted acute and often, crippling, shortages of medical products and essential medical supplies during the pandemic.

26. The Ministry worked with the Department of Pharmaceuticals and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in facilitating procurement of essential medical equipment required to overcome domestic shortages. Its network of missions and posts around the world were the global arm of this extraordinary procurement.

27. During the first wave they coordinated and executed a global sourcing operation to tide over the situation. This was parallel to and also supported the process of scaling up of domestic manufacturing capacity to meet demand and supplement the health infrastructure.

28. Procurement and logistics during the second wave proved to be much more daunting than the first. With rapid increase in cases the supplies and products were required at very short notice, i.e., on an emergency basis. A global effort to source critical supplies such as Liquid Medical Oxygen and essential drugs like Remdesivir and Amphotericin B had to be mounted literally overnight. The procurement effort was accompanied by logistical efforts, unprecedented in its size and complexity, to get the supplies to locations across India. It was a whole of society effort that added a civil society and private sector contribution to a whole of government effort.

29. The Ministry has developed a strong orientation towards economic and business outcomes. Prime Minister during a recent interaction with Heads of Indian Missions abroad and with stakeholders in trade and commerce has given concrete directions on how this Ministry’s network of Missions and Posts abroad can work to further the goal of promoting the three Ts – Trade, Tourism and Technology.

30. The economic diplomacy operations of the Ministry are being reengineered and reoriented with a sharper focus on outcomes. Our missions and posts are working energetically in engaging stakeholders, domestic and external, public and private, governmental and non-governmental.

31. A contemporary example of this new orientation is our work with the vaccine industry during the second wave of the pandemic. We worked to secure supply chains through diplomatic interventions in important capitals; in securing critical raw materials; in accessing technologies; in obtaining regulatory approvals abroad; and in accessing markets.

32. Public diplomacy outcomes are another area where Ministry has a strong focus. India is a civilization with a distinct ethos. An entire public diplomacy effort that is coordinated on a global scale has been created to work on promotion of uniquely Indian subjects such as Yoga. International Yoga Day, which is now celebrated across the world, has become a movement. Promotion of Ayurveda, and of national milestones such as the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the ongoing Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav - events are planned and executed on a global scale. Action Plans, publicity plans, budgets, etc. are coordinated across the network of missions and posts around the world to deliver enhanced public diplomacy profiles.

33. Our people are our greatest economic asset. The Ministry of External Affairs has also focused on supporting Indian workers going abroad. Pre-Departure Orientation Training helps migrant workers to know about the culture, language and regulations of the destination country to ensure their safety and security. It also informs them about resources such as the Indian Community Welfare Fund, Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana, eMigrate Portal, MADAD Portal, Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendras, 24x7 helplines at Indian Embassies and Consulates etc. Online PDOT implemented through effective use of technology will allow women and other prospective migrants, who are in remote locations and are not in a position to attend the training in person, to benefit from the programme.

34. I would like to end by reiterating the determination of the Ministry to adopt the letter and spirit of good governance.

35. We will make every effort to become more transparent, more open, more responsive and more accountable.

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