Indian Foreign Service
Service overview
Formed9 October 1946; 77 years ago (9 October 1946)
HeadquartersSouth Block, New Delhi
Country India
Training GroundSushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service, New Delhi
Field of OperationDiplomatic missions of India (blue) & HQ and domestic offices (green)
Controlling AuthorityMinistry of External Affairs
Legal personalityGovernmental: Civil Service
Preceding ServiceIndian Civil Service
Cadre SizeIFS (A): 996 (March 2021)[1]
Total strength (including IFS (B)): 4297 (March 2021)[1][2]
Service Chief
Foreign SecretaryVinay Mohan Kwatra, IFS
Minister of the Service
Minister of External AffairsSubrahmanyam Jaishankar, MP

The Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is a civil service under the All India Services. It is the diplomatic service and a central civil service of the Government of India under the Ministry of External Affairs.[3] The Foreign Secretary is the head of the service. Vinay Mohan Kwatra is the 34th and the current Foreign Secretary.

The service, consisting of civil servants is entrusted with handling the foreign relations of India and providing consular services, and to mark India's presence in international organizations.[4] It is the body of career diplomats serving in more than 160 Indian diplomatic missions and international organizations around the world. In addition, they serve at the President's Secretariat, the Prime Minister's Office and at the headquarters of MEA in New Delhi.[5] They also head Regional Passport Offices throughout the country and hold positions in several ministries on deputation.

Post-retirement, Indian Foreign Service officers have held high offices including that of President, Vice President, Governors of States, Speaker of Lok Sabha, and Cabinet ministers.


South Block The HQ of Ministry of External Affairs, Prime Minister's Office and Defence Ministry in New Delhi

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."[4] Although established by the Company, the Indian Foreign Department conducted business with foreign European powers.[4] 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.[6]

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."[4]

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.[4] 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.[4]

On 9 October 1946, 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.

Indian Foreign Service Day is celebrated on 9 October every year since 2011 to honor the establishment of the Indian Foreign Service, the idea of which was proposed by diplomat Abhay K.[7][8]


Diplomatic Passport (left) and Official Passport (right). As opposed to ordinary deep blue passports, diplomatic passport is maroon-coloured with "Diplomatic Passport" engraved on it. Officials representing India other than IFS officers are usually given white-coloured Official Passports.

Officers of the Indian Foreign Service are recruited by the Government of India on the recommendation of the Union Public Service Commission. In 1948, the first group of Indian Foreign Service officers were recruited based on the Civil Services Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission[9] This exam is still used to select new foreign service officers.[10] Previous to 1948, some were appointed directly by the Prime Minister and included former native rulers of India who had integrated their provinces into India.

Fresh recruits to the Indian Foreign Service are trained at Sushma Swaraj Foreign Service Institute after a brief foundation course at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie.[11] In recent years, the number of candidates selected to the Indian Foreign Service has averaged between 25 and 30 annually.[10]


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 (during which they are referred to as Officer Trainees). Training begins at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) in Mussoorie, where members of the other elite Indian civil services are trained.[4]

After completing a 15-week training at the LBSNAA, the probationers join the Sushma Swaraj Foreign Service Institute, India 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 defense (Army, Navy, Air Force, CAPF) establishments and undertake tours both in India and Indian missions abroad. The entire training program lasts for a period of 12 months.[4]

Upon the completion of the training program at the institute, an officer is assigned a compulsory foreign language (CFL) training. 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.[4]


The U.S. President Barack Obama and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with their diplomats in an expanded bilateral meeting at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, 2015.

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.[4]

Rank structure

Nirupama Rao, the then Indian Ambassador to the U.S., in a meeting with Hillary Clinton, the then U.S. Secretary of State, in Washington, D.C., 2012

In Indian missions abroad, the highest-ranking officials are the Heads of Missions, who holds the rank of ambassadors, high commissioners, and permanent representatives. They lead the various embassies, high commissions, and intergovernmental organisations worldwide. Heads of Posts are Consuls General who heads Consulate Generals in missions abroad. In MEA headquarters, the highest-ranking official among the secretaries is the Foreign Secretary. The below rank structure is for Indian Foreign Service officers who directly enter the service, in ascending order of ranks.

At an embassy or High Commission or Permanent Missions At Indian Consulates abroad At the Ministry of External Affairs
  • Vice Consul
  • Consul
  • Consul-General

Major concerns and reforms

Under strength

India has one of the most understaffed diplomatic forces of any major country in the world.[12][13][14][15] Based on 2014 calculations there are about 2,700 "diplomatic rank" officers in overseas missions and at headquarters.[2] A minority of the diplomatic officers are Foreign Service (A) officers, the senior cadre of Indian diplomacy, which is primarily drawn from direct recruitment through the Civil Services Examination. Although sanctioned strength was 912, the actual strength of Group A was 770 officers in 2014.[2] In addition there were in 2014, 252 Grade-I officers of Indian Foreign Service (B) General Cadre who after promotion are inducted into Indian Foreign Service (A). The lower grades of the Indian Foreign Service(B) General Cadre included 635 attaches. The breakdown of other cadres and personnel included 540 secretarial staff, 33 from the Interpreters Cadre, 24 from the Legal and Treaties Cadre, and 310 personnel from other Ministries.[16]

Shashi Tharoor, then chairman of Committee on External Affairs in 16th Lok Sabha had presented the 12th report for expanding and building the numbers, quality and capacity of India's diplomats.[2][17][18]

In March 2023, Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs criticized the service for being severely short-staffed and under-budgeted. In its Demand for Grants (2023–24) report, the committee highlighted that the cadre strength of Indian Foreign Service Officers is only 1,011 which is just 22.5 percent of the total strength. Out of IFS 'A' cadre, 667 are posted at our Missions abroad and 334 are manning the headquarters in Delhi which at present has 57 divisions.[19]

Declining prestige and quality

Since its inception and especially in the early decades of the service, the Indian Foreign Service had a reputation for attracting the country's most talented civil service aspirants.[20] The quality of candidates based on exam rank has significantly declined and the quality of candidates has created concerns about harm to prestige in expanding the size of the service.[21]

In the 1960s and 1970s, exam toppers generally in the top 20 opted for the Indian Foreign Service over the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service, the other elite civil services. By late 1980s, the dip was appreciable and Indian Foreign Service spots did not fill until reaching much deeper down the list.[21] The Indian Foreign Service continues in recent years to have difficulty in attracting the most promising candidates. For the 2017 Civil Services Exam, only 5 of the top 100 candidates chose the Indian Foreign Service with the last ranking person from the General Category in the 152th position.[22] For candidates with reservation status, a candidate from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the 640th position closed the list for Indian Foreign Service.[22] The Indian Foreign Service has become less attractive due to higher pay in corporate jobs, other elite civil services like the All India Services promising more power, and fading glamour as foreign travel became common place.[20]

A parliamentary committee reviewing Indian Foreign Service reform in 2016 feared a negative feedback loop with the "deterioration" in candidate quality as both a "both a symptom and a reason for the erosion of prestige in the Indian Foreign Service". However, the committee was hard pressed to address the issue because it was also concerned about increasing the "quantity" of Indian diplomats.[23] T. P. Sreenivasan, a retired Foreign Service officer, argued in 2015 that "elitism should be preserved" for the Indian Foreign Service to perform effectively. He further lamented the Indian Foreign Service "is already a shadow of its former self" which dissuaded aspirants and the service needed to have its "attractiveness enhanced".[24]

Indian Foreign Service, Branch B

The Indian Foreign Service (Branch B), or IFS (B), has two cadres: the General cadre and the Stenographers' cadre. Recruitments are made through separate competitive exams, named Combined Graduate Level Examination (CGLE), conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC). For distinction, the IFS is mostly referred to as IFS (Group A) by the media and general public. Until 2009, both the General cadre and Stenographers' cadre personnel were absorbed into IFS after serving a prescribed number of years. Officers from both cadres who had joined IFS reached up to the post of ambassadors, mostly from the Stenographers' Cadre. In 2009, the path to promotion to IFS was closed for the Stenographers cadre.[25]

General cadre[26][27]
Grade Designation Classification Character Pay Matrix
Headquarters Abroad
Grade I Under secretary First secretary
Second secretary
Group A Non-ministerial Level 11
Integrated Grade II & III Section officer
Group B Ministerial Level 8
Grade IV Assistant Assistant Group B Ministerial Level 7
Grade V Upper division clerk Upper division clerk Group C Ministerial Level 4
Grade VI Lower division clerk Lower division clerk Group C Ministerial Level 2
Cypher sub-cadre
Grade I Cypher assistant Cypher assistant Group B Ministerial Level 7
Stenographers' cadre[26][27]
Grade Designation Classification Character Pay Matrix
Principal staff officer Group A Ministerial Level 13
Senior principal private secretary Group A Ministerial Level 12
Grade A Principal private secretary Group A Ministerial Level 11
Grade B Private secretary Group B Ministerial Level 8
Grade C Personal assistant Group B Ministerial Level 7
Grade D Stenographer Group C Ministerial Level 4

In 2012, a counsellor at the high commission of India in Fiji, originally from the Stenographer's cadre, who had not joined the IFS was appointed as ambassador to North Korea. A senior MEA official said, they had no choice since no one from the IFS had wanted the posting in Pyongyang.[25] Three IFS (B) general cadre associations protested by writing to the Prime Minister's Office and the MEA, requesting to review the appointment. According to a senior MEA official, this was not the first time such appointments had occurred, mentioning past instances from the Interpreters' cadre and Cypher sub-cadre, and also recalled a previous appointment from the Stenographers' cadre as an ambassador in North Korea.[28]

Notable Indian Foreign Service Officers


  1. ^ Among the Secretaries, Foreign Secretary is the top most rank.


  1. ^ a b "Directory of officers and employees of MEA". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d "Twelfth Report, Standing Committee on External Affairs: Indian Foreign Service cadre" (PDF). Lok Sabha. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Indian Foreign Service – Background". CSE Plus. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "MEA – About MEA : Indian Foreign Service". Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Singla appointed PS to PM Narendra Modi". 20 July 2014. Archived from the original on 21 July 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Sorry for the inconvenience". Archived from the original on 19 June 2009. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  7. ^ "IFS officials building their own traditions". The Times of India. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2024.
  8. ^ "PM Modi lauds IFS officers for serving the nation, national interest during IFS day celebrations". Economic Times. 9 October 2020.
  9. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  10. ^ a b "MEA | About MEA : Indian Foreign Service".
  11. ^ "Foreign Service Institute". Archived from the original on 31 March 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  12. ^ "India must rethink strategies on national security if it wants to join ranks with US, China". The Print. 31 July 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  13. ^ "With just 1,400 diplomats, India's foreign influence is severely limited". The Print. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  14. ^ "India has global ambitions but not enough IFS officers to fulfil them". The Print. 31 August 2018. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  15. ^ "Indian Foreign Service in desperate need of reform, particularly when it is losing relevance". Firstpost. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  16. ^ Shukla, Srijan (10 April 2019). "With just 1,400 diplomats, India's foreign influence is severely limited". The Print.
  17. ^ "If Shashi Tharoor's panel has its way, India's diplomatic corps could grow in quantity and quality". Firstpost. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  18. ^ Chaudhury, Dipanjan Roy. "Fill in IFS cadre gap, Parliament committee to Government". The Economic Times. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  19. ^ "'Indian diplomatic service most short-staffed compared to many other countries': Parliamentary panel". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 8 April 2023.
  20. ^ a b "IFS regaining lost edge with toppers". India Today. 23 August 2009.
  21. ^ a b Bajpai, Kanti; Chong, Byron (2019). "India's Foreign Policy Capacity". Policy Design and Practice. 2 (2): 137–162. doi:10.1080/25741292.2019.1615164. S2CID 197828999.
  22. ^ a b "Service Allocation UPSC CSE 2017 – Who got IAS, IPS, IFS…?". ClearIAS. 31 July 2018.
  23. ^ "Why the Indian Foreign Service has a quality and quantity dilemma". Indian Express. 4 August 2016.
  24. ^ "Foreign Service must remain elitist". The Hindu. 25 June 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Steno envoy sparks 'caste war'". The Telegraph. 9 June 2012.
  26. ^ a b "The Indian Foreign Service Branch 'B' Rules, 2017" (PDF). Ministry of External Affairs. 29 August 2017. pp. 11–13. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  27. ^ a b "The Indian Foreign Service (Recruitment. Cadre, Seniority and Promotion) Amendment Rules, 2008" (PDF). Ministry of External Affairs. 11 November 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  28. ^ "From steno to ambassador". The New Indian Express. 27 May 2012.