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Move to give more awards to Indian diaspora

The proposal has been made on the grounds that "there is a huge Indian diaspora" and the govt has to accommodate claims from distinguished Indians.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2004 22:17 IST

As the NDA government prepares for the second Pravasi Bharti Diwas — an annual jamboree for persons of Indian origin (PIOs) and non-resident Indians — the compulsions of an election year seem to be weighing it down.

With barely a fortnight to go for the event, a proposal has been hastily moved to dole out extra Pravasi Bharti Samman — awards given to distinguished NRIs from different fields.

Sources say the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is processing the external affairs ministry’s request to increase the awards from 10 to 25. The proposal has been made on the grounds that "there is a huge Indian diaspora" and the government has to accommodate claims from "distinguished Indians" from different regions and diverse fields.

Interestingly, the L.M. Singhvi committee on the Indian diaspora had originally recommended 25 awards. But Prime Minister Vajpayee and then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had felt that the number should be restricted to 10 — to maintain the 'quality' of awardees.

Sources say at the bottom of the proposal lies a turf war between the MEA's ambassador-at-large for PIOs and NRIs B.K. Agnihotri and secretary in-charge of diaspora affairs in the MEA J.C. Sharma.

Agnihotri blames the secretary for keeping him out of the awards’ jury this time. The awards jury is headed by the Vice President and comprises the external affairs minister, principal secretary to the PM, secretary, PCD amongst others.

"It is an insult that the ambassador-at-large has been kept out of the jury, when the secretary in-charge has been pushing for various proposals to grab a plum post for himself after retirement," remarked a source.

Agnihotri's supporters claim that Sharma, who is due to retire in July next year, is angling for a post-retirement post.

Sharma’s bid to seek a five-year term after retirement as a secretary general of the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts has been turned down. He is now keen to get an assignment either as an envoy to the UK or secretary general of the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius, they said.

On the other hand, Agnihotri is fighting to maintain his standing among the NRI community. Besides, he also wants to garner support for the party from the NRIs and PIOs in the election year.

A final decision on these awards is expected in the meeting of the committee this week.

First Published: Jan 03, 2004 00:00 IST