Strong bonds of friendship 

By SOMAN BABY

Indian Ambassador Bhaskar Kumar Mitra will be celebrating three years of landmark achievements when he leaves Bahrain next month.

He believes he has helped bring India and Bahrain closer together, with new agreements to combat terrorism and crime, along with stronger political and economic ties.

Mr Mitra has just gone on a short break and will be back in Bahrain again next month to hand over charge to his successor Dr Bala Shetty, who is currently India's Ambassador to Senegal.

Dr Shetty is expected to assume his new position in Bahrain on September 1.

Mr Mitra is being transferred as India's Ambassador to Burma.

Top among his achievements in Bahrain was the first official visit of Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa to India, in January last year .

"The visit was so successful that it set in process the momentum that will see more official and high-level visits being exchanged between India and Bahrain," Mr Mitra told the GDN.

"It opened a new chapter in the time-honoured relationship between our two friendly countries.

"It also put the Indo-Bahrain relationship in the spotlight on a different level."

Several agreements between Bahrain and India were signed in Delhi during the Premier's visit.

These included a memorandum of understanding on Foreign Office consultations and bilateral investment protection.

Agreements were also signed and ratified and documents were exchanged on extradition, mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and mutual legal assistance in commercial, civil and judicial matters.

Mr Mitra's final official assignment as Ambassador to Bahrain, was the signing of the ratification of a protocol on extradition of criminals between the two countries and co-operation in investigating crimes related to terrorism and prosecuting the perpetrators.

He signed this agreement last Saturday with Information Min-ister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar.

As part of re-starting the Foreign Office consultations, a high-level delegation from Bahrain's Foreign Ministry visited Delhi earlier this year.

This will be followed up with an Indian External Affairs Ministry Joint Secretary level visit to Bahrain shortly, said Mr Mitra.

Labour issues concerning the 140,000-strong Indian community in Bahrain have been effectively addressed because of the excellent co-operation from the Bahrain government, especially the Labour Ministry and the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence, he noted.

The single largest challenge faced by the Indian Embassy and the community in recent years was the case of more than 1,000 Indian workers who lost their jobs following the financial collapse of the Light Style Garment Factory in Salmabad, in May this year.

"I am personally grateful to the Prime Minister for his generous help in easing the crisis," said Mr Mitra.

"The Labour Ministry and the Indian community also stood by us in solving the issue by repatriating about 280 workers and finding jobs for others in different companies in Bahrain.

"Part of the expenses required for repatriation was borne by the Recruiting Agents Association of India, especially the units in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai.

"The Indian Community Relief Fund (ICRF) also played a commendable role during this time of crisis."

Mr Mitra praised the initiative of volunteer groups and individuals who supported the embassy in handling issues involving Indian housemaids and other workers.

"I was fortunate in attending the various programmes organised by the Indian community on a regular basis," he recalled.

"These included all religious functions, festivals and social occasions."

Another achievement registered by Mr Mitra is the purchase of land in the Seef diplomatic district for the Indian Embassy to construct its own building.

It has been a long-cherished dream of the Indian community to have its own embassy building in Bahrain .

Since the Indian government opened its diplomatic mission in Bahrain in 1973, the country's embassy has been functioning in rented buildings.

Land measuring 7,598 square metres or 81,000 square feet has been purchased in Seef, opposite Citibank, by the Indian government, said Mr Mitra.

The title deed for plot number 04028255 is now in the possession of the Indian Embassy.

The Indian government is keen to start construction of the embassy complex at an early date, said Mr Mitra, who has set in motion the consultation process on the new embassy's design.

The design will incorporate essential elements of local architecture.

The cost of the project will be finalised only after an appropriate design is approved.

"Having purchased the land, the project will be implemented on a priority basis by the Indian government," said Mr Mitra.

"As the area is very spacious, the complex is expected to house the residence of embassy officers, the staff quarters and the chancery building.

"However, the prime area of concentration will be the consular hall, which will provide all services under one roof."

Because of space constraints in the present embassy building in Adliya, people turning up for consular services face many inconveniences, especially during the summer months.

The consular area in the new building will have facilities such as a mini photography studio, photocopying and related services, as well as several help desks.

The new embassy complex may also house a large multi-purpose hall for holding important meetings of the Indian community, said Mr Mitra.

The Indian government has its own embassy buildings in four other cities in the Gulf. These are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait and Riyadh.

Mr Mitra said many high-level visits between Bahrain and India would continue.

External Affairs Minister Dr Natwar Singh was scheduled to visit Bahrain last December.

However, his visit was postponed at the last minute following the tsunami disaster. The visit may take place in the near future.

Mr Mitra, who raised the Indian community's profile during his tenure, said he had found his stay in Bahrain thoroughly enlightening.

"It was especially informative, as it gave a clear insight into the Arab political processes," he noted.

"During my mission here, I also got to know some fine Arab leaders. I think my diplomatic career would have been poorer without this experience."


©  Gulf Daily News