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New Consul General pledges constructive relationship with community

New Consul General pledges constructive relationship with community
January 02
11:56 2019

Vidya Sethuraman

India Post News Service

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Ambassador Sanjay Kumar Panda, who arrived in San Francisco Bay area on November 14 to serve as India’s Consul General of the West Coast and territory of Guam, spoke to India Post on consular, community and Indo US ties.  Panda replaces former Consul General Ashok Venkatesan, who has retired and moved back to India.

Ambassador Panda will serve a massive Indian-origin community estimated to number more than 1.4 million in 11 states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and territory of Guam.

Amb. Sanjay Panda, 56 years, is a postgraduate in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Delhi. After a two-year stint in the corporate world, he moved over to the public sector joining the state-owned Oriental Insurance Company as Administrative Officer.  In 1987, he qualified for the Indian Civil Services and joined the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in New Delhi as Information Officer to the Government of India, before joining the Indian Foreign Service.

He joined the IFS in 1991. He has served at the Indian missions in Belgium, Jordan, France and Malaysia. He was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Tokyo from 2010 to 2014 before moving to Seychelles on his assignment as the Head of Mission. His previous assignment at headquarters was as Joint Secretary (East Asia)-II at the Ministry of External Affairs. He has also served as Under Secretary/Deputy Secretary for Nepal at the Foreign Ministry during 1998-2000, and as Director (China) during 2008-2009. He speaks French and several Indian languages.

During the interview, Ambassador Panda spoke on the vibrant, highly educated and accomplished Indian community of Bay area and his plans to work with them for the next three years. “I am overwhelmed by their reception and we want to create a productive and constructive relationship with the Indian community at large,” he said. He emphasized the importance of cooperation, communication, and coordination between the US and India in the new global economy, and added that his office is committed to providing great services to all community members.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) is celebrated on January 9 every year as it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa.  However, this year the event has been postponed so that it is held around the dates of the Kumbh Mela and the Republic Day parade. PBD 2019 is being held in Varanasi from January 21 to 23, and it is likely to be a bigger affair and Panda expects over 500-1000 attendees from the US alone.

Organized by the Ministry of External Affairs in association with the Uttar Pradesh government, the theme of the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is “Role of Indian Diaspora in building a New India”. PBD provides a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and the people of India for mutually beneficial activities. He urged Indian community from US to attend in large numbers.

Responding to a question on consular services, Ambassador Panda said, “We will not only continue with the open house; we will try to make it more effective so the complaints and grievances of people needing our services are looked into expeditiously. We are committed to providing the best consular services. We are planning to start a helpline sometime soon to answer all the calls (of around 300 received) on a daily basis and expedite their services.

“We have certain constraints in terms of staff and the Consulate office, which is expected to serve 1.4 million Indians in 11 US states. We are trying to address this issue and are working towards finding a solution to reduce the dependency and expedite the services offered at our consulate, such as passport, OCI, visa etc.”

Addressing the plight of the more than half a million undocumented Indians living in the US, many of whom are seeking asylum, Ambassador Panda said he is aiming to eliminate the blanket ban on issuing Indian visas to asylum seekers or former asylees. “Culture and the economy are very important areas for the Consulate. We are planning to collaborate with organizations and local talent, especially singers of Indian origin who have made their mark in the industry, and to host community events in the near future.”

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