The Indian Foreign Service is the administrative diplomatic civil service in Group A of the Central Civil Services of the executive branch of the Government of India. It is taken to be one of the two premier Civil Services (the other being the IAS), as an appointment to IFS renders a person ineligible to reappear in Civil Services Examination. It is a Central Civil service as Foreign policy is the subject issues and prerogative of Union Government. The Ambassador, High Commissioner, Consul General, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and Foreign Secretary are some of the offices covered by the members of this service.
The service is entrusted to organize diplomacy and manage foreign relations of India. It is the body of career diplomats working in more than 180 Indian Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations around the world. In addition, they work at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi and the Prime Minister’s Office. They also guide the Regional Passport Offices throughout the country and hold positions in the President’s Secretariat and several ministries on deputation. Foreign Secretary of India is the administrative leading head of the Indian Foreign Service.
IFS was formed by the Government of India in October 1946 through a Cabinet note but its roots can be traced back to the British Raj when the Foreign Department was formed to conduct business with the “Foreign European Powers”. IFS Day is celebrated on October 9 every year since 2011 to commemorate the day the Indian Cabinet created the IFS.
Officers of the IFS are recruited by the Government of India on the recommendation of the Union Public Service Commission. Fresh recruits to the IFS are trained at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) after a brief foundation course at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.
In 1948, the first group of Indian Foreign Service officers recruited under the joined Civil Services Examination administered by the Union Public Service Commission joined the service. This exam is still utilized to select new foreign service officers.
The Civil Services Examination is utilized for recruitment for the Indian Foreign Service. The whole selection process lasts for about 12 months. Only a rank among toppers guarantees an IFS selection— an acceptance rate of 0.02 percent and is claimed to be the ‘heaven borne service’.
In a few years, the intake into the Indian Foreign Service has averaged between 25-30 persons annually. The current cadre strength of the service stands at approximately 600 officers manning around 162 Indian missions and posts abroad and the several posts in the Ministry at home(Defence, Finance, Home,etc.)
As a career diplomat, the Foreign Service Officer is needed to project India’s interests, both at home and abroad on a wide variety of issues. These cover bilateral political and economic cooperation, trade and investment promotion, cultural interaction, press, and media liaison as well as a whole host of multilateral matters.
The functions of an Indian diplomat may be summarized as:
- Representing India in his/her Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates, and Permanent Missions to multilateral organizations like UN;
- Safeguarding India’s national interests in the country of his/her posting;
- Encouraging friendly relations with the receiving state as also its people, including NRI/PIOs;
- Reporting exactly on developments in the country of posting which are likely to influence the formulation of India’s policies;
- Negotiating agreements on several matters with the authorities of the receiving state; and
- Extending consular facilities to foreigners and Indian nationals abroad.
Career and rank structure
At an embassy: in ascending order of rank
- Third Secretary (entry level)
- Second Secretary (promotion upon being confirmed in service)
- First Secretary
- Deputy Chief of Mission/Deputy High Commissioner/Deputy Permanent Representative
- Ambassador/High Commissioner/Permanent Representative
- At the Ministry of External Affairs: in ascending order of rank
- Assistant Secretary/Under Secretary
- Deputy Secretary
- Joint Secretary
- Additional Secretary
- Foreign Secretary of India (India’s Top Diplomat, Administrative Head of the Indian Foreign Service & Foreign Service Board)