By Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty
ERS independence, India’s foreign policy has been guided by solidarity with other developing nations, based not only on shared ideologies, but also on strong economic foundations. To achieve this objective, a comprehensive program – India’s Technical and Economic Cooperation – better known by its acronym ITEC, was launched by the Indian government in 1964, to provide assistance in technical and economic sectors to newly independent countries and nations development.
The ITEC program was based on the belief that “it is necessary to establish relationships of concern and interdependence, based not only on common ideals and aspirations, but also on sound economic foundations. Technical and economic cooperation was seen as an essential function of integrated and imaginative foreign policy. “Fully funded by the Government of India, ITEC is an integral part of India’s foreign policy and represents an important branch of India’s soft power diplomacy, a phrase that entered the international diplomatic vocabulary years later in the 1980s.
THE REGIONAL TIES
ITEC is demand-driven and relies on innovative technological cooperation to meet the needs of developing countries. More than US $ 2 billion has been spent on this program since its inception, benefiting thousands of students and professionals from around 160 countries.
The ITEC Program is essentially bilateral in nature. However, in recent years, ITEC resources have also been used for cooperation programs drawn up in a regional and interregional context, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Commonwealth Secretariat, UNIDO, Group of 77 and G-15 . The basic paradigm of ITEC is bilateral cooperation but it has regional dimensions that have developed programs with organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sector Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) , African Union (PA), Afro-Asian Rural Development Organization (AARDO), Pan African Parliament, Caribbean Community (CARICOM), World Trade Organization (WTO) and Indian Ocean Rim – Regional Cooperation Association (IOR-ARC) and India – Africa Forum Summit.
The ITEC Program has evolved and grown over the years. Under ITEC and its sister program SCAAP (Commonwealth Africa Special Assistance Program), 161 countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean as well as the Pacific and Small Island countries are invited to share India’s developmental experience.
The shared experiences have covered areas such as civil and military sectors, projects, consultancy and feasibility studies, sending Indian experts in different zones, study tours for officers and students of partner countries, supplying equipment as gifts or requested gifts and disaster relief.
Disaster Relief is an integral part of ITEC and focuses on food security and medical assistance for humanitarian relief.
Training in digital technologies is a special feature that India offers in capacity building, under ITEC. Professionals from developing countries are offered unique training courses, both civil and defense, at various centers of excellence in India. In the civil sector, the training offered covers a wide and diverse spectrum of disciplines ranging from IT, rural development and parliamentary practice to entrepreneurship, marine and aeronautical engineering and the like. In defense, training covers areas such as security and strategic studies, defense management, marine and aeronautical engineering, logistics and management, etc. Over 12,000 scholarships to be studied in short-term and long-term courses at India’s leading institutions are offered annually under ITEC. Partner countries are free to choose their personnel and courses relevant to their development needs. ITEC programs are often molded to suit the specific requirements of partner countries.
Indian professionals are deputed on request in a variety of sectors for teaching and sharing skills. Many of those who have studied or trained in India, have gone on to occupy important political, bureaucratic and military positions in their countries, thereby contributing to the development of their countries and forging closer links with India. As a result of various activities under this program, there is now a visible and growing awareness among other countries about India’s eligibility as a provider of technical knowledge and expertise along with training opportunities, consulting services and feasibility studies. These programs have generated tremendous goodwill and significant cooperation among the developing countries.
An important dimension of ITEC is the Credit Lines (LoC), extended on soft terms to partner countries, for essential imports of goods and services, social welfare and infrastructure projects. India’s South Asian neighbors have received about 70 percent of the grants under LoC. Indian companies participating in ITEC programs have established themselves in partner countries for contributing to infrastructure projects, independent of ITEC or LoC. The ITEC-LoC partnership fosters friendship and solidarity, and is identified by the national ownership of the partner country, as it is voluntary and devoid of any pre-conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many overseas trainees and students were unable to return home and arrangements were made for their continued stay.
ITEC’s growth led the Ministry of External Affairs to bring the management of ITEC and LoC under a new entity, called the Development Partnership Administration in 2011, for streamlining its work under a single vertical management structure. Today, ITEC / LoC has matured into a vital pillar of India’s development outreach and diplomacy, overshadowed by the heritage of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or my family’s civilization.