Consulates expand in Mumbai as India grows
Posted on November 8, 2011
MUMBAI: Foreign consulates with their gun-toting security guards have been iconic addresses in south Mumbai since the sixties. Later this month, the US consulate will bring down curtains on one such recognizable structure-the Lincoln House in Breach Candy-and move to a spanking new and more spacious setting in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). The consulate’s expansion and its northbound move are in keeping with a transition that is underway across foreign service offices in the city.
Many consulates are witnessing a ballooning of staff, services and offices in recent years, in what foreign affairs experts believe is a sign of India’s growing importance on the global stage. Australia plans to double its diplomatic staff strength in Mumbai; Britain has been expanding the scope of its work here; and, a few months ago, the New Zealand consulate opened a new office in BKC. Experts estimate that there are roughly 80 diplomatic missions in Mumbai.
The buzz is palpable in diplomatic circles. The US consulate’s shift from its 53-year-old address, for instance, was necessitated by the need for a larger office space to accommodate its ever-increasing services. The US issued over 4.9 lakh business, tourist and student visas in its 2011 fiscal year (October through September), a 4.3% jump from the previous year, with a substantial number of the applicants coming from Mumbai. To keep up with the demand, it will increase the windows for interviewing visa applicants from the existing 13 to 44 in the new office.
“Our new home reflects the overall trend of US-India ties. Our relationship with India is growing and modernizing, and our Consulate must do the same,” says US Consul General Peter Haas.
The optimism is most evident in the Australian consulate. Till mid-2010, it had only one Australian staffer in the city; today, it has many more diplomatic staffers on board. It now plans to double its staff strength and relocate its offices to Crescenzo in BKC by next February.
“Till mid-2010, we largely operated as a trade promotion office which also offered consular and passport services to Australian citizens, but we now plan to take on a wider role to better reflect Australia’s growing relationship with India,” Australian Consul General Steve Waters told TOI, adding that they were seeking to broaden relations with India on a range of fronts, including education, media, social, sporting and cultural fields.
The British Deputy High Commission was the first to make the shift from south Mumbai to BKC in 2008 in the wake of furious Indo-British engagement on business and visas-a decision Peter Beckingham, British Deputy High Commissioner for Western India, describes as “a sound move.”
A spokesperson of the British Deputy High Commission in Mumbai estimates their visa operations in India to be the UK’s largest in the world-they processed around half a million visas last year. “UK-India engagement on all fronts has grown exponentially, both in quality and quantity, in the last decade. New areas of focus such as climate change, science and innovation have also been added,” said the spokesperson. The complex also houses the trade development agencies of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Consular growth also reveals the city’s business trajectory. Anais Rieu, attache de presse from the Consulate General of France, told TOI that their decision to move base to BKC in December 2010 was taken since they noticed the centre of gravity of Mumbai moving towards the area.
The frenzied diplomatic developments augur well for India, believe experts. Director of the Institute of Defence Studies Analysis N Sisodia sees it as a sign of India’s greater integration in the global economy and a recognition of India’s growing importance in the international arena. “Being a business hub, Mumbai becomes particularly significant since many countries would like to develop their businesses here,” he says.
7 Nov 2011