Indian Foreign Service

The Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is the administrative diplomatic[1] civil service under Group A[2] and Group B[3] of the Central Civil Services of the executive branch of the Government of India.[4] It is a Central Civil service as Foreign policy is the subject matter and prerogative of Union Government.[5] The Ambassador, High Commissioner, Consul General, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations and Foreign Secretary are some of the offices held by the members of this service.[1] The administrative head of the service is the Foreign Secretary, and the Political Head of the service is the External Affairs Minister.

Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
Service Overview
FormedOctober 9, 1946
HeadquartersSouth Block, New Delhi
Country India
Training GroundForeign Service Institute, New Delhi
Field of Operation
Controlling AuthorityMinistry of External Affairs
Legal personalityGovernmental: Government Services
General NatureDiplomacy & Foreign policy
Economic diplomacy
Trade Relations
Defence Diplomacy
Cultural diplomacy
Consular Services
Public diplomacy
Intergovernmental organization
Preceding ServiceIndian Civil Service
Cadre Size2700 members (Group A - 770; Group B - 1930)
Service Chief
Foreign SecretaryVijay Keshav Gokhale, IFS
Minister of the Service
Minister of External AffairsSubrahmanyam Jaishankar, MP

The service is entrusted to conduct diplomacy and manage foreign relations of India.[1] It is the body of career diplomats serving in more than 162 Indian Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations around the world. In addition, they serve at the headquarters of the Ministry of External affairs in Delhi and the Prime Minister's Office.[6] They also head 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 head of the Indian Foreign Service.

IFS was created by the Government of India in October 1946 through a Cabinet note[7] but its roots can be traced back to the British Raj when the Foreign Department was created to conduct business with the "Foreign European Powers".[8] IFS Day is celebrated on October 9 every year since 2011 to commemorate the day the Indian Cabinet created the IFS.[7]

Officers of the IFS are now recruited by the Government of India on the recommendation of the Union Public Service Commission. Previous to 1948, some were appointed directly by the then Prime Minister and included former native rulers of India who had integrated their provinces into India apart from known persons like Mohammed Yunus. 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.[9]


On 13 September 1783, the board of directors of the East India Company passed a resolution at Fort William, Calcutta (now Kolkata), to create a department, which could help "relieve the pressure" on the Warren Hastings administration in conducting its "secret and political business."[1] Although established by the Company, the Indian Foreign Department conducted business with foreign European powers.[1] From the very beginning, a distinction was maintained between the foreign and political functions of the Foreign Department; relations with all "Asiatic powers" (including native princely states) were treated as political, while relations with European powers were treated as foreign.[10]

In 1843, the Governor-General of India, Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough carried out administrative reforms, organizing the Secretariat of the Government into four departments: Foreign, Home, Finance, and Military. Each was headed by a secretary-level officer. The Foreign Department Secretary was entrusted with the "conduct of all correspondence belonging to the external and internal diplomatic relations of the government."[1]

The Government of India Act 1935 attempted to delineate more clearly functions of the foreign and political wings of the Foreign Department, it was soon realized that it was administratively imperative to completely bifurcate the department. Consequently, the External Affairs Department was set up separately under the direct charge of the Governor-General.

The idea of establishing a separate diplomatic service to handle the external activities of the Government of India originated from a note dated 30 September 1944, recorded by Lieutenant-General T. J. Hutton, the Secretary of the Planning and Development Department.[1] When this note was referred to the Department of External Affairs for comments, Olaf Caroe, the Foreign Secretary, recorded his comments in an exhaustive note detailing the scope, composition and functions of the proposed service. Caroe pointed out that as India emerged as autonomous, it was imperative to build up a system of representation abroad that would be in complete harmony with the objectives of the future government.[1]

On 9 October 1946,[11] on the eve of Indian independence, the Indian government established the Indian Foreign Service for India's diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas. With independence, there was a near-complete transition of the Foreign and Political Department into what then became the new Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.


In 1948, the first group of Indian Foreign Service officers recruited under the combined Civil Services Examination administered by the Union Public Service Commission joined the service.[12] This exam is still used to select new foreign service officers.

The Civil Services Examination is used for recruitment for the Indian Foreign Service. The entire 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 known to be the 'heaven borne service'.

In recent years, the intake into the Indian Foreign Service has averaged between 16-20 persons annually. The present cadre strength of the service stands at approximately 800 officers manning around 183 Indian missions and posts abroad and the various posts in the Ministry at home (Defence, Finance, Home,etc.)


On acceptance to the Foreign Service, new entrants undergo significant training,which is considered to be one of the most challenging and longest service trainings in the Government of India and nearly takes more than 1 year to graduate from. The entrants undergo a probationary period (and are referred to as Officer Trainees). Training begins at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) in Mussoorie, where members of many elite Indian civil services are trained.[1]

After completing a 15-week training at the LBSNAA, the probationers join the Foreign Service Institute in New Delhi for a more intensive training in a host of subjects important to diplomacy, including international relations theory, military diplomacy, trade, India's foreign policy, history, international law, diplomatic practice, hospitality, protocol and administration. They also go on attachments with different government bodies and defence (Army, Navy, Air Force, CAPF) establishments and undertake tours both in India and abroad. The entire training programme lasts for a period of 12 months.[1]

Upon the completion of the training programme at the Institute, the officer is assigned a compulsory foreign language (CFL). After a brief period of desk attachment in the Ministry of External Affairs, at the rank of Assistant Secretary, the officer is posted to an Indian diplomatic mission abroad where her/his CFL is the native language. There the officer undergoes language training and is expected to develop proficiency in the CFL and pass an examination before being allowed to continue in the service.[1]


As a career diplomat, the Foreign Service Officer is required to project India’s interests, both at home and abroad on a wide variety of issues. These include bilateral political and economic cooperation, trade and investment promotion, cultural interaction, press and media liaison as well as a whole host of multilateral issues.[1]

Submission of a copy of the credential is the official beginning of any Ambassador's tenure in the host country. It is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an Ambassador by the Head of the State with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.

The functions of an Indian diplomat may be summarized as:[1]

Representing India in his/her Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates, and Permanent Missions to multilateral organizations like UN;

Protecting India’s national interests in the country of his/her posting;

Promoting friendly relations with the receiving state as also its people, including NRI/PIOs;

Reporting accurately on developments in the country of posting which are likely to influence the formulation of India’s policies;

Negotiating agreements on various issues with the authorities of the receiving state; and

Extending consular facilities to foreigners and Indian nationals abroad.

At home[1]

Ministry of External Affairs is responsible for all aspects of external relations. Territorial divisions deal with bilateral political and economic work while functional divisions look after policy planning, multilateral organizations, regional groupings, legal matters, disarmament, protocol, consular, Indian Diaspora, press and publicity, administration and other aspects.

Career and rank structure

Major concerns and Reforms

In 2010, a diplomat officer was found spying for an intelligence agency of another country and was later jailed for three years.[13][14][15][16] In 2012, media reports showed that a foreign service officer was fined US$1.5 million[17][18] for engaging in slavery [17] by United States District Court for the Southern District of New York[17] and was also found denying visa on the basis of homosexuality.[19][20]

Shashi Tharoor, currently the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs,[21][22] has presented 12th report[23] for expanding and building the numbers, quality and capacity of India's diplomats.[24][25] It has been reported that India's diplomatic corps is increasingly outclassed, outnumbered and out of date.[26] India has one of the most understaffed diplomatic force of any major country in the world.[27][28][29][30]


Several media reports have reported foreign service officers under investigation for corruption.[31][32][33][34][35]

Foreign Service cadre discrimination

There is in total a pool of 2,700 personnel holding diplomatic rank that serve in overseas missions and at headquarters. Of these only a minority of about 770 are IFS officers, the senior cadre of Indian diplomacy, which is primarily drawn from recruitment through the Civil Services Examination. The breakdown of other cadres and personnel include 252 Grade-I officers of the IFS(B), 33 of the Interpreters Cadre, 24 of the Legal and Treaties Cadre, 635 Attaches, 540 diplomatic officers from the secretarial staff and 310 diplomatic officers from other Ministries.External Affairs | Test (Assessment) | Public Administration

IFS (B) is the subordinate cadre which ranks below the IFS (A) and has two sub-cadres, the IFS (B) General Cadre (recruited as Clerks and Assistants (now Assistant Section Officers)) and Stenographers Cadre (recruited as Stenographers and Personal Assistants) through separate entrance exams conducted by the Staff Selection Commission. The General Cadre, after promotion to Grade-I of the IFS (B), are absorbed into the IFS A service, while the Stenographers Cadre was denied this benefit vide a ruling in 2004 banning the lateral entry into IFS (A) upon promotion as Principal Private Secretaries (equivalent to Under Secretary in the IFS (B) General Cadre).[36] The Stenographers Cadre provides secretarial support to the IFS Officers, while the IFS (B) General Cadre provides clerical support by manning the Sections and handling the files.[37]

The relations between the cadres have been marked by territorial grievance and rivalry, becoming at times heated enough to spill into the public sphere.[36] A common grievance among IFS (A) officers is the practice of antedating the appointment of IFS (B) officers 8 years before the date of their actual promotion.[36] This puts the IFS (B) officers, who are seen as less prestigious, ahead for promotions of IFS (A) officers who directly entered the service before them.[36] In 2013, 6 IFS (A) officers went as far as to lodge a complaint, against their foreign secretary as well as eight IFS (B) officers named as respondents, with the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for clogging the promotion pipeline and leading to "de-motivation and demoralisation among direct recruit officers".[36]

IFS (B) officers have also complained of discrimination against them by IFS (A) officers. A Facebook group purportedly voicing the objections of IFS (B) officers sprung up in 2016 when IFS (B) officer Tajinder Singh, Second Secretary in the Indian embassy in Lisbon died of an apparent suicide.[38] The Facebook group alleged that Singh was treated unfairly because he was forced to yield his choice assignment in Washington DC after serving in a hardship posting in Damascus.[38] He was forced to give up his choice assignment for Lisbon because of alleged "discrimination and professional challenges from IFS (A) officers in the ministry".[38]

IFS (B) General Cadre have an acrimonious rivalry with the IFS (B) Stenographers Cadre, who are perceived to be lower in prestige than the IFS (B) officers but have a closer working relationship with IFS (A) officers, giving the stenographers at times promotion opportunities ahead of IFS (B) officers. This rivalry was brought to the fore when an officer of the stenographer cadre was appointed as Indian Ambassador to North Korea in 2012. Within a week of the appointment IFS (B) officers vociferously protested. Three different associations representing IFS (B) officers came together to write a single complaint to the Prime Minister’s Office and the external affairs minister expressing their “utter disappointment” and requesting a review of the appointment. In this fight, the overall loss is for the Government of India since it fails to utilise services of the vast resource of experienced officers of the Stenographers Cadre, who by virtue of their attachments with senior officers, are better equipped of the soft policies of the Government in addition to the rules & regulations, compared to the General Cadre, who are mainly deployed in Sections and are limited to clerical work and maintaining files, till their promotion as Grade I. It has been a demand of the Stenographers Cadre that the Government should introduce merit-based scheme or a common exam for the subordinate cadres (Clerks as well as Stenographers) to select the best and the brightest officers for inclusion into the IFS (A) and filter out the incapable ones.[37]

Notable IFS Officers


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  14. "Story of Madhuri Gupta: A Diplomat Who Turned 'Spy' For Pakistan". The Quint. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  15. "The Lady With The Grouses". Outlook. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  16. "Falling in love with Pakistani spy cost Madhuri Gupta reputation, career & 3 years in jail". The Print[. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  17. "US judge: Pay $1.5 m to maid of Indian diplomat for ill treatment". The Indian Express. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  18. "US court asks Indian diplomat to pay $1.5m to 'tortured' maid". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  19. "IFS officer denies visa to spouse of gay American diplomat, moved out". The Indian Express. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  20. "IFS officer refuses visa to gay diplomat's spouse, transferred". Firstpost. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
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  30. "Indian Foreign Service in desperate need of reform, particularly when it is losing relevance". Firstpost. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  31. "Milking the exchequer not foreign to IFS babus". The Times of India. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  32. "CBI to summon IFS officer Rakesh Kumar for questioning". Outlook (Indian magazine). Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  33. "Scandal in Indian Foreign Service, 2 officers booked". CNN-News18. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  34. "Indian diplomats in UK face corruption allegations". India Today. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
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  37. "From steno to ambassador". New Indian Express. May 27, 2012.
  38. "MEA facing unrest among junior IFS-B officers". Indian Mandarins. July 1, 2016.
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