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Interview with Prashant Agrawal – Consul General of India in Hong Kong
After his stint in Bangkok as the Deputy Ambassador of India, Mr. Prashant Agrawal now finds himself heading the Consulate General of India in Hong Kong. Born in 1973, Mr. Agrawal completed his Mechanical Engineering from IIT, Kanpur and joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1998. Couple of years after he was transferred to Paris (he speaks French) for a diplomatic assignment, then Port Louis (2003-2006) and Bangkok (2009-2014).
He has a calm and confident demeanour in the way he speaks; a true marking of a diplomat. I sat down with him at his office in the Consulate General of India. Here is the exclusive interview with Mr. Prashant Agrawal, the General Consul of India in Hong Kong:
Q: Firstly, welcome to Hong Kong. How are you adjusting to the city? What have you seen so far?
A:Thank you. It’s very exciting to know about what HKYantoYan and the team has been doing. It’s one of the most useful things to serve the Indian community over here. My landing in Hong Kong has been very smooth. I was in Bangkok where I was the Deputy Ambassador and I came to Hong Kong just in time for our Republic Day ceremony, which helped me bind myself with the community and local leaders all in one go. And I must say that so far I have received nothing but a great deal of warmth, hospitality and welcome, which has made life for me and my family extremely easy. So, a very smooth landing and I hit the ground running.
Q: There is general consensus among the Indians in Hong Kong that the services at the Consulate can be improved. There are complaints of long queues, long processing times and such. What is being done to tackle these issues?
A: Whatever we do, there is always a room for improvement, that’s always the case. But I beg to differ from the view that our services are really lagging behind. On the contrary, we at the Consulate take immense pride in the fact that when people apply for visa, it can be collected back the next day. So in that sense, we are a fairly efficient organization. I take pride in what my colleagues do in the Consulate. It also needs to be recognized that when it comes to various Consulate services, not all the processing is done at the Consulate. Part of the processing is at times done back home or our other Embassies or Consulates, so there is a little bit of time which is required in that process. Our timelines are very clearly prescribed in our website and when people apply, they are very much aware of what time frame we provide these services within; so people can always plan ahead.
In terms of long queues, we do have fairly long time to take in applications. What happens is that most people come in during the peak times, for example early in the morning or during lunch time. So there are those occasions when the number of applicants tends to be a little high. But I may also say that at the Consulate, we are absolutely conscious about the need to serve people, that’s our mandate. And where there is an emergency, we go out of our way to render the services, whether it’s late at night or it’s the weekend. But if there are specific suggestions to improve our services, we are always there to listen to them.
Q: Hong Kong is a busy city and the value of time is extremely high. In such cases, some people cannot come to the Consulate in person. What facilities are there for people to apply for consular or passport services in-absentia?
A: When it comes to various consular services, like others, we are now resorting to a greater use of IT applications. Most of our visa applications are now being done online. However, there are certain procedures which actually do require applicants to come to the Consulate in person, for example applying for visa currently requires people to give their bio-metric data (currently not in force). And this is something which is increasingly going to happen in most of the countries and we will just need to adjust to that requirement. But when it comes to various other things, for example collecting the documents back once the processing has been completed, people are welcome to send someone on their behalf as long as the proper authorization is there. So, to the extent possible, we are trying to minimize the requirement of physical appearance.
Q: What do you expect from the Indians in HK when they visit the Consulate? Or what should people keep in mind when they come to the consulate?
A: We take great pride in the fact that the people who we service are very well versed in the rules and regulations and they follow the procedures and timeline. By and large our services are run in a very optimal manner because the people actually apply as per the procedures. But in terms of request, my only request is to be mindful of the normal time taken in processing of any application. Just to give you an example, if somebody’s passport is coming up for renewal, there is no need to wait for the last date, people can apply for renewal in time. That would help everyone; the applicant and the Consulate in serving them better.
Q: What are the main challenges that you have come across in Hong Kong so far?
A: I’m in a happy situation where I can say that I don’t have major challenges. We certainly have outlined priorities for the Consulate works, and it not only pertains to rendering better and more efficient consular services. We also have a mandate to promote trade and investment as well as creating a greater understanding about what India and Indian culture is all about. We like to work together with all our stakeholders in pursuing these objectives. These are objectives, but I wont call them challenges.
Q: In your time in Hong Kong, what changes would you like to bring?
A: As mentioned, after I came here, we had drawn a mission statement for ourselves and we have identified some key priorities. We would like to align our resources and time to those priorities like being more in tune to the requirements of the people we are serving and the country we are serving.
Q: Does the Consulate have regular system of interaction with the Indians, listening to their grievances/problems and sorting them out. If not, is the Consulate planning to have such a periodic interaction sessions?
Q: What steps is the Indian Consulate is taking to promote Indian products/business in HK?
Q: In Africa and other Asian countries, the Indian missions there organise various cultural activities like Indian dances, stage shows, food festivals etc. Does the Consulate organise such events in HK?
A: I’m very happy to inform you that 2014 is being observed as a ‘Year of Friendly Exchanges’ between India and China. It marks 60 years of Panchsheel principle and it’s the desire of leadership from both sides to create a better understanding about our people. Part of the Year of Friendly Exchanges are a number of cultural activities and events which are held in both sides. For example the recently held ‘Buddhist Exhibition’. We are bringing in a large number of cultural troupes to Hong Kong and to the Mainland. We will put together the timetable, schedule and framework in the next few months. We are sure we will bring you some very exciting events!
Q: In April/May 2014, world’s largest democracy is going to hold elections. How can Indians participate in these elections ? (Interview was done prior to the elections).
A: Elections in India are always a fascinating event; Celebration of democracy – as we call it. these elections are particularly very important, coming at a juncture where we currently stand. It’s going to be an exciting and interesting few months ahead. In terms of participation of the Indian nationals who are in Hong Kong, as you know, our laws and regulations still require that people physically vote wherever they are a constituent of. This is because we still do not have a system where we can vote on-line or voting in the missions abroad. But the Consulate does facilitate Indians to register in the electoral rolls. We work as per the directions of the election commission to facilitate those who would like to revise their details of to register with their electoral rolls. my sense is that this process would have by now completed because the elections are just around the corner. But if there are any further directives given to us by the election commission, we will be reaching out to the community to inform them.
*Interview questions complied and article edited by Rahul Prakash