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The Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs has recommended more than doubling the budget of the foreign ministry to reach 1% of GDP. The committee, in a report submitted last week, also suggested setting up of Indian missions in every UN member country to boost New Delhi’s diplomatic presence.

The 31-member standing committee observed that the MEA’s budget, which is estimated at 17,250 crore for 2022-23, may be inadequate given India’s hopes for an increased global profile.

“The Committee do not find such allocation in consonance with the country’s rising aspirations and growing global stature," the report read. “In Committee’s view in connection with India’s rising global profile, engagement and footprint, the allocations made to MEA are evidently insufficient," it added.

At present, India’s foreign ministry budget totals up to 0.44% of GDP.

With increased resources in its warchest, the ministry should set about expanding India’s diplomatic footprint by opening resident missions in all UN member states, the Committee felt. Currently, New Delhi has no missions in 48 UN member states. This is despite a strong expansion since 2018 which has seen India setting up diplomatic shop in 14 African countries including Rwanda, Djibouti, Sao Tome and Liberia among others.

Posts have also been established in Lithuania, Estonia, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, according to the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry has pointed out that further expansion will depend on a needs-based assessment given the substantial economic costs and logistical effort needed to set up missions.

The Committee made a slew of other recommendations to improve India’s foreign policy footprint. Given New Delhi’s use of development aid to advance its diplomatic objectives, the creation of a separate aid disbursal body was proposed. Further, the evacuation of thousands of Indian students from Ukraine convinced the Committee of the need for a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) dealing with the evacuation of India’s citizens in crisis situations.

The MEA also pushed back on certain recommendations made by parliamentarians. While the Committee’s report calls for the creation of a coherent grand strategy document outlining India’s foreign policy aims. This would be in line with a number of countries, including the United States and Japan, who regularly release and update defence plans and foreign policy strategies.

However, the MEA has expressed its reservations about releasing such a strategy. “While the harmonisation of ends and means through a foreign policy document is appealing, it is our considered view that such a document will be of limited practical value because different countries are guided by different belief systems," the ministry stated.

“A grand strategy or a single Foreign Policy document outlining foreign policy carries with it the risk of oversimplification of India’s deeply historical and richly diverse statecraft," the ministry said.

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