Finance Commission holds discussion with Swaraj

New Delhi [India]: As part of Finance Commission of India’s interactive process with major central ministries, discussions were held on Sunday with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and other senior officials of the ministry.

The Commission, led by Chairman NK Singh and other members Shaktikanta Das, Anoop Singh, Ashok Lahiri and Ramesh Chand, was appraised of the broad architecture of the working of the foreign affairs in their detailed presentation.

During the meeting, it was highlighted that the MEA’s budget has remained less than one per cent of the total budget of the Indian government’s budget and needs a fillip with the kind of activities it has to undertake.

Out of the total budget, Establishment expenditures have been consistently below 30 per cent. Around 25 per cent of the Establishment Expenditure is used for the Central Passport Organization. Of Non-establishment expenditures, Aid (Grant plus Loans) which is major head standing at around 58 per cent, is facing a shortfall of about Rs 3,900 crores.

It was also revealed that the MEA is working on strategic connectivity, shaping choices and balancing interests and creating goodwill by various development projects, humanitarian assistance, and aids to friendly countries, innovative diplomatic outreach and partnerships.

Development partnership of about 27.7 billion dollars is in place at present with various countries under India’s Neighborhood First and Act East policies. To increase the outreach and efforts towards such partnerships, 18 new missions are to be opened by 2022 in various countries which need additional resources.

The MEA is also working vigorously to enhance public service delivery through a network of 322 Passport Centers (including Post Office – PSKs) across the country, up from mere 77 passport centres in 2014 with excellence. Post Office Passport Seva Kendras, launched in January 2017, have been a major policy decision for last mile coverage. MEA has a target of Passport Centre in every parliament Constituency in future.

As part of its outreach to the Indian diaspora as well as Indian citizens, the MEA has stared various programmes like Bharat Ek Parichay, Know India Programme, Pradesh Me Videsh and SAMEEP.
The Commission was conscious that contours of the foreign policy of an increasingly interdependent India entail multiple challenges and opportunities. The emergence of other major powers in this region and the need for timely completion of projects initiated in a number of friendly countries needed adequacy of resources.

The opportunities in Africa and other developing countries also needed to be harnessed to the country’s advantage and predictability of finances was central in these endeavours. Enhancing the reach and quality of India’s diplomatic power needed further strengthening by both the ministry as well as missions abroad. The need to open so many new embassies in different parts of the world in near future and improving the public service delivery by a network of Passport Centers across the country, both need finances for physical infrastructure and manpower.

The Chairman and Members tried to understand the trade relations of India across the globe, its challenges, and efforts done to enhance this. Overall, the Commission was given an understanding of the challenges in matching India’s diplomatic power with India’s economic power as the world’s fastest-growing emerging economy in the 21st Century – The Asian Century. Following today’s preliminary meeting, more such meetings and consultations will be held between the Ministry and the Commission.