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Life in the Indian Foreign Service

Life in the Indian Foreign Service -Abhay K.

Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is unlike any other Civil Service such as Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or Indian Police Service (IPS). An Indian Foreign Service officer spends most of his/her time abroad ( twothird of his/her career) and only one third of career in India at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) in New Delhi.

After joining the Indian Foreign Service, for which one has to be generally at the top of the ranking order in Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) of India, one is sent to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) in Mussorie for training for a period of three months where he/she is known as Foreign Service Probationer/ Officer Trainee.

After completing the three months training, which involves training in multiple disciplines including a foreign language, horse riding and trekking in high Himalayas, a Foreign Service Probationer moves to the Foreign Service Institute located in New Delhi for further training.

At the Foreign Service Institute, which is located on Baba Gangnath Marg near Jawaharlal University (JNU) campus, a Foreign Service Probationer undergoes training for a year which involves International Relations, Indian Foreign Service Pay, Leave and Compensatory Allowances (IFS-PLCA) Rules, Foreign Trade, functioning of Indian missions in neighbouring South Asian countries, attachments with the Army, Navy and the Air Force, attachment with the district and the state administration and attachment with the corporate sector.

After the end of the training with the Foreign Service Institute a Foreign Service Probationer is attached with a Division of the Ministry of External Affairs for a period of six months for on-the-job training. After completing on-the -job training a probationer is allocated a Compulsory Foreign Language (CFL) such as Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Russian, Spanish or others as deemed fit and then she is posted in an Indian mission as Third Secretary (Language Trainee) where the probationer learns the allocated foreign language.

After successful completion of the foreign language learning process, a proficiency test is administered by the School of Foreign Languages(SFL), Ministry of Defence, India. Only after successfully passing the proficiency test in a given foreign language, a Foreign Service Probationer is confirmed in the Indian Foreign Service. Usually it takes almost 3 years to become an Indian Foreign Service officer from the date of joining the Indian Foreign Service as a Probationer at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussorie.

After being confirmed in the Indian Foreign Service, an Indian Foreign Service Officer is posted as a Second Secretary in one of the wings (Political, Economic or Commerce, Consular, Administrative or Cultural) at an Indian Embassy or as Consul at an Indian Consulate for a period of 3 years. During this period the officer learns political, economic, commercial, cultural, consular or administrative works from his senior colleagues at the Embassy or the Consulate.

An IFS officer can take his/her parents abroad but the Government provides for medical facilities of only dependent parents- who have no body else to look after them and have abysmally low income.

Let me clarify the difference between an Embassy and Consulate at this stage. An Embassy is located in the capital city of a country whereas a Consulate is located in other important cities of a country and works under the supervision of the Embassy.

A Second Secretary in an Indian mission gets a decent accommodation of 110 sq meters but has to purchase his/her own car. He/She gets a decent foreign allowance (which increases with promotion) and medical facilities besides government provided accommodation. Government provides for education fees for the children(up to 2 children only) above five years of age. Government also provides Representational Grant (RG) to entertain foreign guests.

An average day of a Second Secretary starts at 9 a.m in the morning with driving to the office, reading emails/fax-messages, making phone calls, writing notes, replying letters, briefing senior officers, following up with the Ministry of External Affairs Headquarters, attending meetings and occasionally attending a reception hosted on the occasion of national day or welcome/farewell of a diplomat by another Embassy, driving back home, spending 2-3 hours with the family and watching news of the day before going to bed.

After completing 3 years at an Indian Embassy or Consulate, an IFS officer is transferred to another Embassy or Consulate or to the MEA headquarters in New Delhi. In New Delhi the officer joins as Under Secretary and looks after a particular desk in a Division of the Ministry for the next 3 years. The average day of an Under Secretary is same as an average day of a Second Secretary mentioned above except he/she has to look after several Indian Embassies and Consulates, respond to their queries, follow up with them and speak to several people during an average working day. Generally he/she has to work extra hours beyond the office hours (i.e. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days a week) and over the weekends to clear the extra workload.

After completion of 9 years in the service from the date of joining the Indian Foreign Service(including probation period), an IFS officer gets automatically promoted to the rank of Deputy Secretary. After spending approximately three years in New Delhi, an IFS officer is posted abroad for the next three years at one of the 163 Indian Missions/Posts abroad which are categorized into A*, A, B, C and C* categories depending on the hardship and standard of living. For example London, New York, Canberra are the places rated as A*, Paris, Rome etc. are categorized as A, Moscow, Cairo etc. are categorized as B, while places like Islamabad, Kathmandu, Khartoum are categorized as C*. An IFS officer has to choose three places of his choice out of the number of vacant posts which are circulated. If he/she is lucky then he/she can get one of the three places of his/her choice. Foreign postings are decided by the Foreign Service Board which is headed by the Foreign Secretary.

After completing his/her tenure in a given Mission/Post, the officer is again posted for three years to another Indian Mission/Post located in another country. An officer is provided for by the MEA for the transport of his/her baggage, car and other belongings from one country to another by air, land or sea.

The promotion chain in the Indian Foreign Service is as following -

While abroad at an Indian Mission/PostThird Secretary(Language Trainee); Second Secretary: First Secretary; Counsellor; Minister; Ambassador

While in India at MEA Headquarters-

Attache; Under Secretary; Deputy Secretary; Director; Joint Secretary; Additional Secretary; Secretary

On average it takes 9 years of service to get to the rank of Deputy Secretary, 13 years of service to become a Director and 16 years of service to get to the rank of Joint Secretary. Promotions up to the Director/Counsellor rank are automatic and time bound while promotion to the next level i.e. Joint Secretary is based on the Confidential Annual Performance Appraisal Reports (CAPAR) of the last ten years. Generally a Joint Secretary becomes an Ambassador abroad (now a days Director rank officers have also been given Ambassadorial assignments) and head of a Division in the MEA headquarters in New Delhi.

CAPARs are written by the reporting officer and reviewed by a higher ranking officer than the reporting officer. An officer has a right to appeal to the Ministry if he/she does not agree with the report given by the reporting or reviewing officer.

A Foreign Service officer can serve as a Regional Passport Officer(RPO) or can go on deputations to the Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Commerce, Department of Space or the United Nations, World Bank etc.