In my memorandum 871 of 31st December, 1951, to the Department2 I referred to the regular meetings held in New Delhi between representatives of British Commonwealth countries and officials of the Government of India International Aid Co-ordination Unit to discuss Colombo Plan matters of common interest. Your concurrence in this Mission's participation has been assumed, and the first formal meeting on February 4th was attended by the Third Secretary, Mr. R. N. Birch. Members of the Canadian High Commission and United Kingdom Trade Commission were also present.
2. Both the Canadian and British representatives regarded the idea of the meeting with enthusiasm, although the Canadian would not commit himself without specific instructions from Ottawa and the British apparently entertained some fear of the Colombo Plan losing its individuality in the event of the Americans being invited to attend the meetings. It was agreed that invitees should include only the Colombo Plan countries and, where the agenda was relevant, United Nations Specialised Agencies. It was felt, however, that their participation should not be placed on a regular basis until the satisfactory functioning of the present arrangement had first been assured.
3. The primary concern of all was that these meetings should not undermine the work or authority of the Bureau at Colombo. The United Kingdom representatives were particularly anxious over this point. They nevertheless appreciated that the Bureau's capacity was limited by its staff and that it should be relieved of routine correspondence outside of formal applications and responses. In addition they accepted the point made by the Indian members that direct negotiation with the mission concerned would be of incalculable value in speeding matters up instead of tedious triangular correspondence with the Bureau and the home government concerned. If, for instance, availability of a articular type of expert could be determined in a round-table discussion or by informal enquiry from each government, a formal application for his services could then be made on a country, through the Bureau, with the reasonable certainty of its being met soon. In such a way also it might be possible to eliminate a repetition of the previous case of the offer of services to India by a particularly good British expert which was subsequently withdrawn since negotiations had taken so long.
4. Mr. S. M. Wilson3 himself recommended in his draft report that regular meetings be held in each capital city between government officials and representatives of participating countries; the Government of India has endorsed this recommendation. Direct discussions, they feel between officers on the spot who are completely familiar with the subject will eliminate much paper work, much delay and will lead to a smoother functioning of the Plan. The principle thus established, the meeting then discussed matters of common interest.
5. The Indian members advised that the Government of India had decided that the salaries and allowances of Colombo Plan experts serving in India should be free of income tax. While legislation to this effect cannot be passed until Parliament assembles later in the year, the arrangement for the time being will be for the expert to pay the assessment and to apply to the Government of India for refund. Experts will also be entitled to customs duty exemption on their personal effects upon first arrival in India.
6. The Canadians asked why, in the opinion of the meeting, movement of experts to India had been so slow by comparison with Pakistan and Ceylon. The Indian opinion was given that the experts so far sought by India related only to the public sector and concerned higher technicians who were not as readily available abroad as those whom other countries had apparently secured. In the middle grades of technicians India was comparatively well off, and as far as lower grades are concerned, it is anticipated that more requests for their services will be forthcoming as a result of an invitation to the private sector to submit requirements (for instance Tata Iron and Steel).
7. The Indian member then referred to the flexibility of the Colombo Plan machinery in determining the terms and conditions of services of experts and suggested that it might be suitable to discuss at these meetings the principles observed by each government. I shall keep you as fully informed as possible on the United Kingdom and Canadian attitudes to the question of payment to experts.
8. As far as the equipment programme is concerned, Australia is the only country which has yet made much progress towards its implementation. Mr. Birch gave a brief outline of the procedure which was being adopted—viz. the Indian officials submitted to this Mission authoritative requests for equipment with full specifications and in order of priority approved by the National Planning Commission. Albeit this arrangement bypassed Colombo entirely, he felt that the mass of detail involved and the complexity of future correspondence would make reference through Colombo impracticable. The existing arrangement appeared to be working satisfactorily and might well be adopted by Canada and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom representative said that the United Kingdom equipment programme had not advanced simply because they did not know what India wanted; he asked Indian officials to forward lists to him in the same manner as to Australia of equipment requirements for particular projects. This was agreed to.
9. My own feeling is that the idea of holding these regular discussions is a good one. They do not involve any commitment by the participating missions and they allow a good deal of informal discussion which can clear the air more easily and more rapidly than a mass of correspondence through Colombo. The Bureau will continue to be the central coordinating authority for the Colombo Plan but both the contributing and recipient countries will know a good deal more about the subject matter when formal requests and acknowledgements are channelled through the Bureau. In addition, the procedure which is likely to be adopted will prevent duplication of requests or the placing of requests through the Bureau when the likelihood of their being met is extremely remote. It will, in short, allow all participating countries to know what is going on in India, whereas the Council for Technical Co-operation, one stage removed, must have inadequate information.
10. I also feel, however, that other agencies in the field of technical assistance should also know what is going on within the Colombo Plan and we in their programmes. The Indian assurance that all organisations are kept in mind and that there is no overlapping cannot be accepted at face value. For example, it was only by chance that W.H.O. officials were able to pass on to me their comment that India's request for two pediatric nurses was not necessary (a separate memorandum deals more fully with this) and equally fortuitous that the Chief of Mission of U.N.I.C.E.F. informed me that U.N.LC.E.F. had given two mobile dental vans to India which were not used for a considerable time and whose value now he very much doubted. This information is extremely valuable in view of the request made by the Health Ministry for mobile dental vans under the Colombo Plan. I believe that all the contributing organisations should get together more often, the Indian Government excluded, and discuss quite frankly their respective programmes.
11. The Canadians and British are cautious over their participation and are not likely to be fully co-operative until their governments specifically approve, as it is anticipated they will, the current discussions. If asked, I should like to be in a position to assure my colleagues that the Australian Government concurs in the principle of holding regional conferences.
12. I am sending copies of this despatch to Colombo, Karachi and Singapore.
[NAA: A9879, 2202/El part 4]