Agendas of the multilateral fora, during the period, were generally under the shadow of international financial turmoil, high food prices and volatile energy prices. India continued its active engagement with ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China-May 2008), G-8-05, G-20, IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), IOR-ARC (Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation), ACD (Asia Cooperation Dialogue) etc, where it presented its perspective on financial crisis and other critical issues such as food, security, energy security, climate changes and sustainable development. The first IOR-ARC Film Festival was held in New Delhi in February-March 2008 as part of Indian initiatives announced at the 7th IORARC Council of Ministers (COM) meeting held in Tehran in March 2007.
Secretary (ER) led the Indian delegation to the preparatory meeting of BRIC Deputy Foreign Ministers meeting in Russia in May 2008.
India hosted the 2nd BIMSTEC (13/11/2008), and the 3rd IBSA Summit in New Delhi during the period. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh led the Indian delegations to the ASEM Summit in Beijing, the G-20 Summit in Washington (15/11/2008) and informal interaction of Heads of State/Govt. of BRIC countries. Conclusion of the negotiations on the agreement on “trade in Goods” under the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and ASEAN was considered yet another milestone in India’s “Look East” policy.
Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme & Development Partnership (DP):
The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme is the flagship programme of India’s technical and economic cooperation efforts. In keeping with India’s growing economic strength and international role, efforts were made to enhance and expand India’s technical cooperation and development assistance to partner countries with emphasis on capacity building, transfer of technology and sharing of experiences. This involved 158 developing countries including 139 countries under ITEC in Asia, Africa, Central Asia, East Europe, Latin America and 19 countries under SCAAP (Special Commonwealth African Assistance Programme) in Africa. Around 5000 professionals, in Government and other sectors from 158 developing countries attended more than 200 courses conducted by institutions in India, both Government and in the private sector, under the civilian and defence training programmes. Special courses were organized for Africa, IOR-ARC, CIS, Afghanistan, Lao PDR, Yemen in various fields like management, WTO issues, labour, audit etc. Indian experts were deputed to advise and assist in diverse areas such as information technology, auditing, legal expertise, pharmacology, statistics and demography, public administration, textile and agriculture. Many projects were undertaken during the year in the field of information technology, small and medium enterprises, civil construction and vocational training in different parts of the world. Humanitarian assistance was also extended to countries affected by earthquake, cyclones, floods, etc.
Investment and Technology Promotion (ITP):
Economic Diplomacy continued to occupy an important place in India’s foreign policy, acquiring a sharper focus in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world. The Ministry, through the ITP Division, was actively engaged in the promotion and facilitation of foreign investment and trade. It participated in policy meetings of Foreign Investment Promotion Board and Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, as well as other policy meetings concerning reforms and liberalization of the economy and simplification of investment procedures. ITP Division supplemented the overall efforts of the Government to boost FDI inflow into India, by reaching out to the investor community and organizing and funding promotional events in partnership with the private sector, apex business chambers and our Missions abroad. The cause of foreign investments was further supported by publications such as the “India – Dynamic Business Partner; Investor Friendly Destination” etc. and ITP Division’s website: www.indiainbusiness.nic.in.
Development aid, including grants and Lines of Credit (LOC), to developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia formed an important component of our Economic Diplomacy. While helping Indian companies get project contracts and orders for supply of goods in these developing countries, the LOCs have helped in infrastructure development in these regions thereby creating considerable goodwill for the country. During 2008-09. 17 LOCs worth US$ 744 million to 16 developing countries were approved.
Given the importance of energy security for India’s development, a separate Energy Security Division has been established in March 2009 to coordinate with Energy Ministries and Indian Missions abroad. The Division worked closely with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in organizing the India-CIS Roundtable on Hydrocarbons in November 2008 and Petrotech 2009, hosted/co-hosted seminars on India’s energy options, commissioned studies on energy surplus countries and regions, was actively involved in energy security related seminars/conferences organised by other Ministries and Chamber of Commerce and Industry and extended assistance to Indian companies dealing with overseas energy collaborations and opportunities. It also took the initiative to set up a Working Group on energy with senior representatives of oil infrastructure PSUs.
Policy Planning and Research:
The PP&R Division maintained close interaction with institutions and individuals specializing in policy research and analysis and extended financial assistance to various academic institutions/think-tanks located in different parts of the country for holding conferences. seminars, preparation of research papers, exchange of scholars on issues related to India’s external relations and security with a view to derive invaluable inputs for the planning, formulation and implementation of our foreign policy.
Policy Planning and Research Division continued issuing Monthly Summary for the Cabinet. The Division also continued to edit and publish the Annual Report of the Ministry. The Report serves as a compendium of India’s interaction with the rest of the world in the political, economic, and cultural fields, including the views of the Government on various facets of international relations.
Consular, Passport and Visa Services
During the year 3 new Passport Offices were opened at Amritsar, Dehradun and Coimbatore. All 37 Passport Offices have been computerized and issue machine printed and machine readable passports.
A total of 53.15 lakh passports were issued in 2008-09, an increase of approximately 6.5% % over the corresponding figure in 2007-08. The total revenue generated from all Passport Offices also increased to Rs.606 crore, an increase of approximately 5.5% over 2007-08.
The Ministry has been taking a number of measures to make the processing and issue of passports simpler and quicker for the comfort and convenience of the public. District Passport Cells (DPCs) have been opened at the district level to increase the efficiency of the receiving and verification process. Online submission of passport applications has been introduced in all Passport Offices. Also facilitation Counters and Help Desks have also been set up to assist applicants and also to attend to grievances/complaints expeditiously.
The Passport Seva Project launched by the Government of India is expected to result in the issue of new passports within three days after police verification and of all other passport services in one day. The Pilot Project is expected to begin at Chandigarh and Bengaluru by July-August 2009. It will be implemented fully to cover the entire country in 2010.
The Ministry has successfully implemented the project for centralized printing of Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) at CPV Division, New Delhi in respect of 140 Indian Missions/Posts abroad.
All diplomatic and official passports are now being issued as e-passports as part of the pilot project. Based on the experience gained from the pilot project, it is proposed to start issuance of e-passports in the ordinary, category by end 2009. During 2008, visa-waiver agreements were signed with Egypt, EI Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, South Africa and Turkey.
Extradition treaties were signed with Brazil, Australia, Iran and Egypt. The apostille attestation on documents was also started at branch secretariat offices of the Ministry at Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Guwahati with effect from 15 June 2008. During the year, 1,70,000 personal and educational documents and 1,71,000 commercial documents were attested by the Ministry. In addition to this, 80,000 documents were apostilled for use abroad in the member countries.