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How Workable will Consultants be in the Existing Framework of the Ministry of External Affairs?

Gautam Sen is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior positions at the Centre and in a north-east State Government.
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  • July 06, 2015

    The Government of India has decided to appoint Consultants in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and candidatures have been invited through a public advertisement. The Consultants are to be appointed for an initial period of three years, with no time limit indicated for extensions that can be given after the initial period of engagement, and no age limit at the time of appointment. The Consultants will work in the Policy Planning and Research Division (PPRD) of MEA, and their duties will involve regular monitoring of specific geographical or thematic areas relevant to foreign policy formulation, and providing knowledge-based inputs for the purpose. Their requisite base-level educational criteria have been stipulated as an M.Phil degree in International Relations, with extra credit provided for a Doctoral qualification. On the face of it, the proposed institution of Consultants may appear innovative and perhaps, intended to overcome the deficiency in expertise within MEA, but obtainable from academia and research institutions. Furthermore, the shortage in the establishment of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) apropos the need in MEA, Indian Missions and international organizations, appears to have been a determinant in the decision for appointing Consultants on a limited tenure basis.

    The decision on Consultants in MEA appears to an extent similar to Young Professionals (YPs) (basically outsourced Consultants) engaged on a monthly fee in a scale of Rs. 25000/- to Rs. 40000/-by the erstwhile Planning Commission and continued by NITI Aayog (the re-incarnated Planning Commission), for nearly ten years now. There is, however, a difference to the extent that, the YPs were actually young when they were appointed broadly within an age range of 24 to 30 years, and they could serve till the maximum age of 40 years, subject to periodic extensions after initial appointment depending upon satisfactory performance evaluation internally in the organization they serve. The system of YPs, introduced basically on the initiative of a former Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, was intended to obtain a certain level of professional expertise suited to the requirements of the Planning Commission, without the Government incurring a perpetual pensionary burden of the YP recruits (unlike in the case of regular officers). But the fact of the matter is that there is a high level of attrition of YPs from Planning Commission on a continuous basis, after serving only a few years. Moreover, there was no manifest commitment of the YPs towards the Planning Commission, because they had necessarily to take care of their long-term employment needs given that the Planning Commission was not going to retain them beyond 40 years of age (initially YPs could serve up to an age of 32 years only). The YPs utilized their short-term work-experience in the Planning Commission to improve their marketability and job prospects, without the Planning Commission gaining institutionally from them on a long-term basis, notwithstanding their high educational attributes. The Government has to ensure that the Consultants who are to join the MEA do not go the way of the YPs.

    There are also grey areas to the extent that the professional and hierarchical relationship which the Consultants will have with regular IFS officers is yet to be clearly outlined. It is a moot point that there should be clarity on whether the Consultants (as per the existing guidelines, they can join MEA at any age) would primarily serve in an advisory capacity or would perform executive or operational functions, and if so, their inter se position vis-à-vis IFS officers, etc. In the governmental realm, in the Indian context, it is the salary range or scale of pay that which determines the inter se and hierarchical position of officers administratively within an organization. Without a well thought-out hierarchical system, there are bound to be organizational constraints and internal friction within MEA, impeding the flow of information and inputs pertinent to decision-making. The emoluments of the prospective Consultants have not been specified in the advertisement issued for their recruitment, and the applicants have been requested to indicate their expectation in this regard while applying. An indicative threshold of emoluments should have been provided to the applicants. Therefore, in the existing system and apropos extant statutory rules of the Government of India, the Financial Adviser of MEA will have an essential role to play towards finalising of and concurring with the relevant decisions on salary and emoluments of Consultants, with a modicum of flexibility. Nevertheless, MEA will have to follow certain parameters in this respect, based on approvals by the Ministry of Finance.

    Another fact which needs to be reckoned with is that, the IFS has been losing its sheen over the past few years. In the Civil Services Examinations (through which officers are directly recruited to the IFS and other Group `A` Services of the Government of India), a general trend has been that a huge majority of candidates in the top 100 in the merit list do not opt for the IFS, but instead for the IAS as their first choice of Service, unlike in the 1950s and `60s when an overwhelming majority of the top 25 or 30 would opt for the IFS. To redeem the situation, an option may be to make the IFS more attractive, job and career-progression-wise. The periodic cadre review mechanism already in place can address these aspects in the interest of a robust foreign policy instrument. Another complementary measure may be to ensure that beyond a certain threshold, say at the levels of Director and Joint Secretary, officers from the multi-functional IAS or even from specialised Services like Indian Economic Service, Indian Trade Service, etc. (who have domain expertise in commerce and economic relations and trade issues), are brought into a common resource pool at MEA on deputation basis, for a period of five years and extendable up to ten years, if found suitable from their track record in MEA. Officers having substantial experience in Ministry of Defence could similarly be deputed to MEA in certain territorial divisions involving countries where India`s relations have a high security content. Such an arrangement could be worked out without affecting the functional status of IFS officers, and should logically contribute to implementation of a multi-dimensional foreign policy. The above-stated options could be a more viable means of overcoming the professional expertise and personnel gaps in India`s foreign policy establishment, rather than introducing Consultants on short or medium term basis and without a clearly delineated functional and administrative juxtaposition between the regular IFS officers and Consultants.

    Ad hoc appointment of Consultants in PPRD at different levels may not therefore lead to the desired outcome unless the fundamental issues highlighted above are addressed in the overall context of professional and administrative resources already available to the Government of India, with due appraisal of the economic implications of the prospective arrangement, and ensuring that the new functionaries can work with motivation and in tandem with the existing complement of IFS officers and also have a feeling of personal economic security.

    The author served as Additional Controller General of Defence Accounts and in the Ministry of External Affairs, and is presently Adviser to a former Chief Minister of the State Government of Nagaland.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.