From nuke deal, PM’s envoy Saran moves on to infrastructure


New Delhi : From nursing the India-US civilian nuclear deal, the prime minister's special envoy Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary,seems to have seamlessly made the transition to overseeing infrastructure projects in the strategically crucial state of Jammu and Kashmir.

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There were many eyebrows raised when Saran's name figured in the high-level delegation that accompanied Defence Minister A.K. Antony on his just concluded visit to the Ladakh region of Kashmir.

For Saran, however, it was just another job.

"We need to focus on what we need to do (on improving Ladakh's infrastructure)," explained of this new assignment.

The shift comes in the midst of rumblings in the external affairs ministry against Saran's continuing as New Delhi's interlocutor on the India-US civilian nuclear deal long after his retirement.

Thus it was Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon who travelled to Washington last month for talks on reviving the flagging deal. Both sides later professed to be satisfied on concluding a 123 Agreement, the next step in the nuclear deal.

Saran's new assignment, in fact, takes off from a task he has previously performed. As foreign secretary, Saran had made a close study of road development projects in the border areas of the northeastern region. The aim now is to replicate this in Kashmir to push the state's economic development.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) also wondered what the fuss was all about.

"Mr. Shyam Saran continues to serve as a special envoy to the prime minister. There is no change in that. But what specific tasks are assigned to him is up to the prime minister," a senior PMO aide told IANS.

"Mine is a small group (within Antony's delegation). We are here to focus on what we need to do; on whether what we have done is enough or do we need to do more," Saran said in Ladakh capital Leh of his new assignment.

Antony, in fact, laid down the parameters.

"You must rapidly accelerate the pace of road development in Ladakh. This will not only help the security forces but will also bring more tourists to this area. This in turn will lead to the economic development of this beautiful land," Antony told the head of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Lt. Gen K.S. Rao.

Rao, as also an official of the external affairs ministry's China desk, are the other two members of Saran's group. While Antony returned Saturday, Saran will stay on till May 9.

He will submit a report directly to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his return to Delhi.

Essentially, what Saran aims to do is explore the manner in which the Rs.120 billion accelerated special road development programme underway in the northeast can be replicated in the Ladakh region.

"The prime minister had announced some road development works when he visited (Kashmir capital) Srinagar in May 2005. Some other works are also on. We need to see how these can be integrated in a holistic manner," Saran maintained.

"The requirements of each region are different. In the northeast, there are more habitations. Here (in Ladakh), the population is sparse. We will study all these aspects before a report is submitted to the prime minister in consultation with the Border Roads Organisation and the army," Saran stated.