Struggling to cope with expanding international duties, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is ready with a plan, valid for at least the next decade, to meet India’s rapidly growing international profile. The ministry clearly has ambitions to catapult the country into a world leader, in tune with its aspirations for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
According to senior officials, the prime minister, who is also the External Affairs Minister, has approved the plan and wants it carried through as swiftly as possible. The exercise, to be spread over a ten-year period, involves an additional financial outlay of Rs 62 crore, at the rate of around Rs 6.2 crore annually.
Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon has been told to fine tune the plan for approval by the Ministry of Finance as soon as possible, before it is placed before the Union Cabinet for clearance. Menon, in a letter to his colleagues on assuming office, has urged them to respond to his letter by the end of the month, so he can finalise the draft proposal.
The MEA carried out an extensive survey to figure out how best it can cope and improve its functioning, given India’s increasingly growing global profile. It was called “a comprehensive review of requirements, both for missions as well as headquarters, carried out with a 10-year horizon. It is based on factoring personnel requirements both at headquarters and missions abroad using objective criteria which list the overall relevance to India of countries.”
The survey, based on inputs ranging from the political and strategic importance of the country to India, the increasing trade and economic development needs of the country and the presence of Indian diaspora, aims to meet the country’s emerging profile over the next few decades.
The plan, according to documents available with the Hindustan Times, aims to not only increase the number of Indian missions abroad, but substantially raise the cadre strength of the service. The proposal is likely to raise similar demands for staff expansion among other ministries, many of which are equally hard pressed.
Among the world’s major nations, India’s diplomatic representation abroad is restricted to 114 of the 192 member-states of the UN, the draft proposal says. This is compared to 163 countries in which both the United States and China have missions. The French are represented in the largest number of countries abroad; 166. Britain and the Russian Federation have missions in 153 countries, Germany in 145 and Japan in 133.
“Since there is no substitute for ‘boots on the ground’ it is intended, in a progressive manner, to increase our resident diplomatic representation abroad from the present 114 to 131 countries,” the proposal states.
The plan proposes to open 24 new missions, some in countries where there are already embassies, and create 372 official posts for them.
India has 164 diplomatic outposts in 114 countries at present. The Cadre strength of the Indian Foreign Service (officers) at the moment is below 700. For these existing missions, the plan proposes the deployment of 314 more officers and 200 additional staffers. The pressure of issuing visas has been cited as a major reason to raise staff strength.
“It would not be possible to exclusively rely on direct recruitment of IFS officers to meet the increased need of officials of the MEA,” the draft proposal says. “The expansion would therefore require a mix of increased direct recruitment, taking specialists on deputation, as well as increasing the promotion quota from IFS(B).”