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The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is now more "people-oriented" and gives priority to rescuing Indian citizens stranded abroad, which was not the case earlier, Sushma Swaraj said on Sunday.
As many as 80,000 Indians stuck abroad due to various reasons have been rescued since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power at the Centre in 2014, the External Affairs Minister said while inaugurating the country's first 'Videsh Bhavan' in Mumbai.
The 'Videsh Bhavan', which integrates all offices under the MEA in Maharashtra, is located in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), a business district in suburban Mumbai.
She said that the ruling dispensation has changed the character, the nature and face of the MEA in the last three years.
"We have increased the speed of processing of documents, have made our ministry's face more humane, and efficiency of services has improved significantly," Swaraj said.
Underlining the Centre's people-oriented character, she said that earlier, the situation was such that priority was not given to rescuing Indian citizens stranded abroad.
"Some 80,000 Indian citizens, stuck abroad due to various reasons, have been rescued since 2014," the minister said, adding that every State in the country should have such regional Videsh Bhawan.
The Bhavan will house four major offices of the MEA, such as Regional Passport Office, Protector of Emigrants Office, branch Secretariat and the Regional Office of Indian Council of Cultural Relations.
An official communication from the MEA stated that the Bhavan will cater to Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, apart from the 12 districts of Maharashtra.
The Protection of Emigration Office in the Bhavan will play a crucial role as 70 per cent of the country's emigration applications come from Mumbai centre alone, it said.
"When the prime minister talked to us about cooperative federalism and empowering states, my cabinet colleagues asked me what would you do in cooperative federalism policy? I told them that I will take 'Videsh in Pradesh' (and) that is how this Videsh Bhavan came up in Mumbai.
"(As) We wish to cater to all types of needs of Indians, such videsh bhawans are being planned at every state capital to address issues locally. The details would be revealed soon," the minister said.
Highlighting her ministry's achievement, she said that we have got 77 Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) as a legacy in 2014 when the BJP government came to power.
"We have commenced 235 new passport kendras in the last six months. Nine centres in Maharashtra have also come up. Total 251 PSKs in India have opened since May 2014, which shows our commitment and speed of governance," she said.
Unlike in the past, Swaraj said that the Indian government has rescued citizens of other nations, including the United States (US), Germany and France among others, too.
"The Yemen conflict was an example of our improved relations with various countries and our growing influence. My colleague [Minister of State for External Affairs and] Gen (retd) V K Singh was personally present there in Yemen and rescued people — Indian as well as from other countries.
"We had asked the then German and French governments to ask their citizens to register themselves with the Indian embassy in Yemen so that we could rescue them. In many cases, we have saved Pakistani nationals as well. Citizens of 48 nations, including Pakistan, have been rescued by the Indian government at various instances in the last three years," the minister said.
On speedy processing of passport applications, she said, "A committee under the MEA found several rules and regulations irrelevant and unnecessary. We had removed all of them and made the procedure easy for our citizens. We realised that with 4-5 documents, a person can obtain a passport. The unnecessary burden of other documents was stopped completely".
The minister also referred to the plight of poor Indians who get stuck in countries, like in West Asia, as they are misled by certain private companies and offices.
"In Mumbai, there are many private companies and offices who give false information to poor students or labourers and send them to countries in West Asia or the countries having emigration check point. If their documents are faulty, these people get stuck there for a long time. We are also thinking about starting something for them," she added.
V K Singh, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Administrator of Daman and Diu, Praful Patel were present at the event.
"This is the first such Videsh Bhawan in the country, where four major offices of the MEA are brought under one roof. We want to assure our Indian citizens who are overseas that this government is committed to facilitate them," Singh said.
Fadnavis said more than 110 countries have their representative offices in Mumbai.
"Having all arms of MEA in Mumbai is important, and the diplomatic community would certainly benefit out of it. We extend our support to MEA as the aspiring youth of Maharashtra wish to go abroad and study there. They also wish to form business alliances, and having such office like Videsh Bhavan in Mumbai itself is important," he said.
Nowadays people get their passport in 24 to 48 hours because the Maharashtra government has gone ahead with online passport verification by the state Home department, the CM added.