Home Interview “G-20 delegates have become brand ambassadors of U’khand”

“G-20 delegates have become brand ambassadors of U’khand”

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Exclusive interview with Chief Secretary Dr SS Sandhu

By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun: Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Dr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu is a distinguished bureaucrat with wide ranging administrative experience in several states as well as the Centre. A medical doctor, a historian as well as a lawyer by educational qualification, he has made his mark as a distinguished civil servant. He is a 1988 cadre IAS Officer of Uttarakhand, who has served in undivided Uttar Pradesh, in Uttarakhand, in Punjab as well as at the Centre in various capacities. He has the unique distinction of serving as Principal Secretary to 4 Chief Ministers in Uttarakhand and Punjab.

He also served as Additional Secretary to Government of India in the Department of Higher Education, looking after Technical Education, in particular. One of the most productive periods of his career, so far, has been as Chairman of the National Highway Authority of India. As NHAI Chairman, he played a key role in sanctioning a large number of road and highway projects for Uttarakhand andhe is monitoring the implementation of those projects as Chief Secretary. As Chairman of NHAI, he also played a key role in resolving arbitration disputes worth Rs 30,000 crores.

Dr Sandhu, besides being a regular speaker at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, has also delivered talks at Harvard Business School in Boston. He has keen interest in trekking and mountaineering as well as gardening. He has scaled the Black Peak located at a height of 22,000 ft in district Uttarkashi and devoted a lot of time to gardening during the Covid lockdown.

He spoke to Garhwal Post on a number of issues of contemporary importance, as also the three G20 Conferences being hosted by Uttarakhand. Some excerpts from the interview related to the G20 events:

Uttarakhand is a small state, but it still got the opportunity to host 3 major G20 meets and one Y-20 meet! How did that happen?

Dr Sandhu: Initially, two events were assigned to Uttarakhand. Both of them were in Garhwal (Narendra Nagar). However, Kumaon was left out and the CM was keen to have at least one event there, too. I spoke to the officers concerned in the Government of India and, after some persuasion, we managed to get the Ramnagar event, also, which in fact turned out to be the first of the G20 events to be hosted by Uttarakhand. There were challenges. The airport was over 2 to 3 hours from Ramnagar. The road to Ramnagar needed to be repaired and other logistic challenges were still there. I personally went there by road, giving enough time to see what needed to be done. However, in the end, the delegates were very pleased with the way we hosted the events and the cultural evening. The cultural evening was mesmerising and all the delegates were very happy and satisfied. This particular meeting, as you may be aware, was appreciated by the Centre as the best hosted event related to the G20 summit thus far.

The third G20 event related to infrastructure is being held from 25 June onwards in Narendra Nagar at the same venue as the previous one. How is the preparation for this going?

Dr Sandhu: As you know, it is the Ministry of External Affairs and related departments of Government of India that make the arrangements. Our job is to manage the logistics and to facilitate the Union Government in successful hosting of the events. As you are aware, the upcoming G20 Meet on Infrastructure will be held at the same venue as was the last event in Narendra Nagar, Hotel Westin. However, the people of Rishikesh were feeling a bit left out because, despite the venue being mentioned as Rishikesh, most events were held in Narendra Nagar. One programme was held at Parmarth Niketan, which is technically not Rishikesh. Consequently, this time, the evening Ganga Aarti will be held at the Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. Preparations are underway to improve the sanitation and for beautification of the road leading to Triveni Ghat. Before the previous event in Narendra Nagar, I had chosen to inspect the preparations by road instead of taking the chopper. The road leading to Narendra Nagar is in very good condition. Our teams in both the major events did a praiseworthy job. I have directed the officials and the local administration to ensure permanent improvement of places and roads, instead of making temporary arrangements so that tourism and the local people can benefit from hosting such events. By hosting one event in Rishikesh, at least part of the town will benefit improved in terms of road quality, beautification and sanitation.

Despite being relatively a small state, Uttarakhand has been given the opportunity to host 2 major G20 and one Y-20 event. This has taken many by surprise. In what ways can the state hope to gain from hosting such events?

Dr Sandhu: We have successfully hosted the event and showcased before the world what Uttarakhand can manage. In addition, during the events, we showcased our products, including those produced traditionally and those produced by our Self Help Groups (SHGs). Organic agriculture products like millets and coarse grains were also showcased in addition to the handicrafts. Some gifts were also given to the delegates but, due to travel restrictions, information about the state, its culture, its sites and products was given in digital form in a pen drive to them. The delegates at all the events hosted by us, so far, were very pleased and happy and looked satisfied with the way they were hosted. They all are our brand ambassadors now and this is going to be a major gain for the state, particularly with regards to tourism and marketing of our GI and other traditional products like millets, etc. Our exports, too, should get a boost.

Do you think that Uttarakhand, which boasts of tourism as the mainstay of its economy, will gain in this sector by hosting the G20 Summit?

Dr Sandhu: Well, as I have already stated, Uttarakhand will get a major boost in tourism as a result of hosting these events. We have shown to the world that we can host any event successfully, including mega events. The delegates from the many countries that participated in the G20 events in Uttarakhand were genuinely happy not only as guests but also with the cultural diversity and depth of the state. The Ramnagar event has been described as the best event hosted, so far.

What are some of the major issues that the upcoming G20 meet on Infrastructure will address?

Dr Sandhu: As you are aware, the agenda of such meetings is prepared at the Central level and only circulated among the participating delegates. Hosting states have no role in this regard. However, the major points of discussion will be focused on infrastructure financing for developing countries with regards to the environment, in particular. How to counter climatic changes and help the developing countries in this regard is going to be a major issue at the upcoming meet, along with green financing. We all are aware of how unpredictable the climate has become in the past few years.

Pic: Mohtshim Khan