Why couldn’t outgoing President Pratibha Patil follow the norms like other VVIPs and buy the gifts she received officially, instead of getting them loaned to her proposed museum?
Gifts which VVIPs including President of India receive during their official foreign tours are the property of the nation and are deposited in the government treasury called the Toshakhana. They can be purchased at market value by the VVIPs, if they so wish. In fact, according to the ministry of external affairs, “the total amount collected by the government by allowing retention of gifts by VVIPs during past three years and the current year is Rs62,000.” So, why couldn’t outgoing President Pratibha Patil follow the ministry’s norms and buy whichever gifts she received officially instead of having them free of cost?
The notification of the ministry of home affairs dated22 June 1978 does not mention anything about giving away such gifts on loans to the respective VVIPs. However, around 155 gift items which Pratibha Patil received during her tenure as President of India have now been ‘loaned’ to the collector of Amravati, where Ms Patil’s family trust is building a museum to showcase her political journey.
Earlier VVIPs which include presidents, vice-presidents and ministers, could retain gifts that they receive on foreign trips which are valued at Rs1,000 and that too can take home only one such gift in case they receive more than one on a particular tour. In an amendment made by the ministry of home affairs in 1999, the amount has been increased to Rs5,000 and the VVIP can purchase the gift item as per the market value of the “country of origin” over and above that amount. This means that the VVIP can retain any gift he or she receives during official tours abroad free of cost in case the value is Rs5,000 and below. However, if he or she wishes to possess any other gift which is beyond this amount then, he or she will have to pay the market price as valued by the ministry of external affairs.
In a written agreement signed between the Presidential Estate and the Collector of Amravati, the 155 gifts out of the 2,500 gifts that Pratibha Patil received in her tenure as the President of India, have been ‘loaned’ to her trust for a museum under-construction, in her hometown in Amravati, without any time frame for returning them to the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s ‘Toshakhana’ (treasury).
Ms Patil, who courted controversy and impropriety in terms of grabbing a sprawling 2,42,000 sq ft defence land for her luxurious post-retirement home in Pune (which she abandoned after a series of articles in Moneylife) and for having spent Rs200 crore on her foreign trips with an entourage of family members in practically every trip, is now all set for another bad precedence, where propriety too is being questioned.
As per the last notification of the ministry of home affairs dated 27 January 1999, “In regulation of the foreign contribution (acceptance or retention of gifts or presentation regulation 1978 in sub-regulation (1) the following proviso shall be inserted namely: provided that a minister my retain a gift or presentation made to him/her provided the value of the gift assessed under sub-regulation 5 does not exceed Rs5,000.” There is no mention of loaning out of these gifts to the individual after retirement which are received in the official capacity of the VVIP, on behalf of the entire nation.
The above reply was given in the Lok Sabha on 2 May 2012 by Praneet Kaur, minister of state in the ministry of external affairs (MEA), to a series of questions asked by Members of Parliament DB Chandre Gowde, Karnataka and Abdul Rahman, Tamil Nadu, in the Lok Sabha. The questions posed by these two MPs were:
While most of the information for the above questions are still being compiled, as stated by Ms Kaur in her reply: “the information is being compiled and will be laid on the Table of the House as soon as it is available and that, none of the gifts deposited in Toshakhana by the VVIPs was sold. The total amount collected by government by allowing retention of gifts by VVIPs during past three years and the current year is Rs 62,000.”
This writer has invoked the RTI (Right to Information) Act and sent off an application under Section 6 of the RTI Act to the Central Public Information Officer in the President of India’s office on 3rd August. While reply is awaited, I request each one of you who reads this article to independently send a similar RTI query which will ensure citizen pressure, enough to compel the CPIO to reveal the required information from the august office.
Central Public Information Officer
Shri Saurabh Vijay,
Central Public Information Officer
Telephones: 011-23015321 Extn: 4685(O)
Full name of the applicant:
Vinita Vishwas Deshmukh
123/8, Mira Society
Date: August 3, 2011
Subject matter of information:
President of India’s gift articles loaned for display
Details of information:
Period of information:
1990 to 2012
Whether information is required by post or in person:
By registered post at the above address
Simultaneously please scan and email all the certified documents at [email protected].
Thanking you in advance and requesting you to send me the information as early as possible.
123/8, Mira Society
Rules when VVIPs receive gifts from abroad on official visits (ministry of home affairs notification, 22 June 1978)
Provided that in case where such person received such gift or presentation while he is visiting any foreign country or territory outside India such intimation may be made by him within 30 days from the date of his return of India.
2. Every gift or presentation received by such persons for any foreign source shall be deposited by him with the secretary to Government of India in a ministry or the department which has sponsored that delegation of which he was the member within 30 days from the date of intimation by him of such receipt under sub-regulation (2).
3. The secretary to the Government of India, referred to in sub-regulation 3 shall forward every such gift or presentation deposited with him to the Toshakhana in the ministry of external affairs for assessment of its market value in India.
4. Such assessment shall be made within 30 days from the date of receipt of the gift or presentation in the Toshakhana in accordance with the rules applicable, for the time being in force to the valuation of articles in the Toshakhana and such persons shall be intimated in writing of such assessment forthwith.
5. The assessment so made under sub-regulation 5 shall be final and shall not be called in question by such person.
6. Every such gift or presentation the market value in India of which as assessed under sub-regulation 5 does not exceed Rs1,000 (now it is Rs 5,000) shall be returned to such person for retention by him;
8. Every such gift or presentation the market value in India of which (now it is market value of the country of origin), as assessed under sub-regulation 5 exceeds Rs1,000 shall be retained in the Toshakhana;
Provided such person shall have the option that exercised by him within 30 days from the date of receipt by him of the intimation under sub-regulation 5 to purchase such gift or presentation on payment of the difference between the market value in India of such gift or presentation as assessed under sub-regulation 5 and Rs1,000 (now Rs5,000); provided further that the option once exercised under this sub-regulation SHALL be final.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
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