The merger of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will see all issues, except investment promotion — including foreign direct investment — by non-resident Indians, get assigned to the foreign ministry.
Despite the labour ministry putting up a hard fight for re-allocation of work related to the Emigration Act and the Office of Protector General of Emigrants (POE), which were taken out of its purview in May 2004 at the time of the formation of MOIA, the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) decided that both will go to the MEA. The decision followed Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s reiteration that emigrant related issues would be “best looked after by a single organisation”. Since most of the tasks assigned to MOIA were performed by Indian embassies under the MEA, he argued that shifting back POE to labour ministry would result in emigrants dealing with two ministries —labour for their registration and departure, and the Indian embassies for coordination and facilitation of employment.
“This arrangement in which emigrants have to deal with two separate ministries or agencies for their work poses avoidable difficulties,” he argued before the CoS. The POE is responsible for issuing registration certificates to recruitment agents, who send workers abroad, especially to the Gulf region.
Moreover, the MEA wanted officials dealing with foreign workers-related issues to have better diplomatic back-up and coordination to deal with emergencies involving Indians in various crisis-prone countries in West Asia.
At the time of creation of the MOIA, subjects had been taken out from work handled by Economic Affairs, Home, Culture and Human Resources Development.
The subjects that have been denied to the MEA are promotion of investment by NRIs, including innovative investment and policy initiatives particularly in special economic zones and matters relating to FDI. These have been given to Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion.
Earlier, these were dealt with by the Ministry of Commerce.
However, to keep the MEA in the loop, the CoS decided that the MEA will be represented on the Foreign Investment Implementation Authority, while the Department of Commerce will get membership on the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.
Last month, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said the merger was essential as “substantial work” of MOIA was being done by Indian missions abroad. Since MOIA’s creation, there have been separate ministers for both ministries.