Pratibha Patil’s Museum: Gifts received by VVIPs from foreign countries can be purchased by them but can they be loaned?

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:

  1. whether the government has laid down any extensive guidelines with regard to gifts received by VVIPs during their foreign visits which are funded by the Union Government
  2. if so, the details thereof;
  3. the details of VVIPs who went on official visits to foreign countries during the last three years and the current year using public money and the details of the gifts received by them, VVIP-wise
  4. the details of the VVIPs who declared the gifts and deposited the same with the government and who did not declare the gifts received by them during the above period
  5. the total amount of daily allowance paid to these VVIPs by the Indian missions/embassies abroad during the above period
  6. the total amount earned by the government by selling/disposing of the gifts deposited by the VVIPs and
  7. the steps taken by the government to ensure that the gifts received by the VVIPs are declared and deposited in the government Toshakhana

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

                       President's Secretariat

                       Rashtrapati Bhavan

                       New Delhi-110004

                       Telephones: 011-23015321 Extn: 4685(O)

 

 

        Full name of the applicant:

            Vinita Vishwas Deshmukh

            123/8, Mira Society

            Salisbury Park

            Pune-411037

 

       Date: August 3, 2011

        Subject matter of information:

        President of India’s gift articles loaned for display

        Details of information:

  1. Copies of rules/GRs/amendments/correspondence for rules and amended rules regarding gift articles and souvenirs which are received by Presidents of India from other countries and within the country
  2. Copy of rules and regulations for ‘loaning’ official gifts received by President of India to presidents on their retirement or loaned to any other organisation.
  3. Copies of requests made by Presidents of India for loan of gifts for display at their post-retirement residences or any other place outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Give names of the presidents and list of gift articles loaned to them
  4. Copies of official requests made by Presidents of India for loaning of gifts from 1990 onwards. Provide copies of all such correspondence within the President of India office as well as between President of India office and the relevant district/city authority where the President of India may have resided or the place where she/he wants to display the loaned gift items, form 1990 onwards
  5. Copies of official requests made specifically by Ms Pratibha Patil to President of India office and correspondence between President of India’s office and ministry of external affairs (MEA) and collector, Amravati, Maharashtra regarding loaning of a number of gift items for a museum in Amravati.
  6. List of gift items loaned specifically to Ms Patil along with the evaluated price of each item, from which country did each gift item come from, what was the purpose of her visit when she received each of the gift item
  7. How many gift items in total does the ‘Toshakhana’ of the president’s office have at the moment and what is the total amount in value

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.

 

Yours Sincerely
 

Vinita Deshmukh

123/8, Mira Society

Salisbury Park

Pune-411037

 

 Rules when VVIPs receive gifts from abroad on official visits (ministry of home affairs notification, 22 June 1978)

  1. Where such person receives any foreign contribution by way of gift or presentation, he shall within 30 days of the receipt thereof , intimate to the secretary, to the Government of India, in the ministry of home affairs/ministry of external affairs and the ministry or the department of the Government of India sponsoring the delegation of which he is a member in writing –
  1. The fact of his having received of such gift or presentation
  2. The foreign source from which it is received
  3. Its approximate market value in India
  4. The place in which and the date on which it is received; and
  5. Such other details relating there to as he may, in the circumstances consider appropriate;

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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    COMMENTS

    Mun Mohan Kale

    7 years ago

    Madam Pratibha's fame is well known. She had not rendered accounts for the MPLAD she received earlier even though years have elapsed. I think BJP was after her & to make her escape Madam Sonia made her President (well, the first woman president!). It was being said that the amount was donated to a trust which was being run by her husband, Devising Shekawat.(A fine ruse to oppose Opposition Presidential candidate Shekawat. I may be corrected if I am wrong,). She extensively toured the world as President (she led a trade delegation to SA just before demitting office!). We made a big fanfare of her being a woman president even though there are many better, dignified women who could have adorned the post with aplomb. She adorned the homes of Indira & Sonia Gandhi better for which she got the reward. A quote from English describes her -"SOME ARE BORN GREAT, SOME ACHIEVE GREATNESS, & UPON SOME GREATNESS IS THRUST" and she belongs to the last.

    Nagabhushanam K

    7 years ago

    It only shows that person like Pratibha Patil can rise to occupy highest position of President of India, but can't overcome her greediness.

    GOVIND GOPAL SHANBHAG

    7 years ago

    Madam Deshmukh - One more article which made public the gift articles of VVIP for which country has ownership rights. I do not remember any controversery and/or news after retirement of Dr.Rajendra Prasad/ Dr.Sarvapalli R /Dr.Zakir Hussain/ Dr.Kalam and country still adores them.

    Indi Banker

    7 years ago

    Good work !! 'Kalam-Wali-Bai'

    This is like putting a ladder against the neck of the camel, climbing up and slapping it. he ! he ! he !

    I am 200% sending this RTI on monday and urge all the readers to spend Rs 10 on the IPO and another Rs 20 on stationary and pastage and 20 minutes from their busy schedule to send this RTI.

    More people need to join the RTI Movement to expose the 'Manmani' of the public servants, enjoying at taxpayers money.

    SANJAY SINVHAL

    7 years ago

    What Ms Patil has done only shows her character. Saying goes, a Dog's Tail can't be made straight, no matter what you do. Same holds good for our politicians also...

    Now, let the RTI Act be ingrained at the educational level

    For the RTI Act to become more effective and used by young citizens, including it in the educational curriculum is being taken up seriously. While the government is in discussions with the NCERT about its implementation, Symbiosis has initiated a unique RTI programme for its media students

    While the RTI (Right to Information) Act in India is being currently used by activists and thousands of citizens who have learnt through self-learning or workshops, the government is seriously discussing with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to introduce it as a lesson in schools and colleges.  

    Ten-year old Aishwarya Parashar of Lucknow created history by filing a RTI query regarding the garbage dump outside her school and had a library established in its place. In February this year, she created a flutter by sending a RTI query to the PMO office, asking for the order that gave Gandhiji the status of the “Father of the Nation”. She is a mini-activist with youngsters asking her RTI queries or doubts on her mobile or email, and she quickly responds to them. This shows that if school children are educated, they can become active RTI users and help in monitoring governance or satiating curiosity.

    Last fortnight Nepal, which implemented its RTI Act in 2007, introduced the subject in the mass communication curriculum in its secondary schools. For this, a leading RTI organisation, Freedom Forum, continuously lobbied for educating students on right to information, since the last two years. Finally, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) under the ministry of education introduced it.

    In Maharashtra, the discussion to include a lesson of RTI in the civics subject was talked about fervently in the early 2000s but is yet to see reality. At that time too, discussions were almost bearing fruition. RTI activists had lobbied for the introduction, in order that the citizen-friendly RTI Act is ingrained at that impressionable age and becomes known as everyone’s tool for pro-active participation in our democracy rather than a weapon in just the hands of few.

    Many media colleges in India do touch upon the subject of RTI but not enough to inspire young journalists to use it as a key tool for their stories as they are not familiarized with it, comprehensively. Pioneer of RTI movement, Aruna Roy insists that since 2005 when RTI Act was introduced, journalists can take pride in procuring government documents themselves by using RTI and thus skirting the traditional “official source” which may have vested interest and may not provide the whole truth. However, the RTI use in media fraternity is quite low. Hence, it is appreciable that the Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication (SIMC), Pune, has recently initiated a unique RTI familiarization and uses the programme for students to inculcate the wide use of this tool for investigative and informative journalism.

     A fortnight back, 300 under-graduate and post-graduate students of Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Symbiosis Law College and Symbiosis School of Economics filed RTI applications in subjects of their interest. The issues addressed were varied and the lesson on how to write RTI applications was monitored by noted RTI activist Nikhil Dey, member of MKSS (Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangthan) and RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, founder of Mahiti Adhikar Manch. Presently, these RTI applications are being classified as per ‘city’ and ‘subjects’ after which Pune-related RTI queries would be sent to the respective public authorities by the students.

     This exercise was conducted at the second, two day seminar of Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. Pioneering RTI crusader Aruna Roy was the chief guest of the seminar and addressed students on the importance of using RTI as a tool for investigative journalism. While SIMC has a chapter on RTI Act in its Media & Civic Affairs subject, since March it has embarked upon a full-fledged practical orientation programme to the subject through a series of workshops and seminars to be held in the academic year. In order to amplify the knowledge and use of RTI, SIMC is preparing a RTI manual for journalists based on the two seminars, which would be available online as well as in print in a book form, for the benefit of students and journalists across the country.

     It all started after stalwart journalist Dileep Padgaonkar took over as professor, RK Laxman Chair, of the Symbiosis International University in November last year. Elaborating the reason behind making RTI an important subject amongst media students, Mr Padgaonkar says, “some of the major scams in the past five years were revealed through RTI activists. The media saw the news worthiness and subsequently took it on as a systematic campaign. That’s when I realised that RTI must be used as a tool to improve the quality of journalism and the basic principle was to know how to pit the power of truth against the truth of power and therefore I thought, what is required, is a systematic expression of the history of RTI Act, its achievement, the risks involved as well as exposure of filing RTI applications, the follow up required and after that, the need to get to the other side of the story from the incriminated source.”

     Dr Eshwar Anand, professor of journalism and media studies, who is steering this programme, states if students are well-trained in the RTI Act and on how to file requests at the college-level itself, they would become good journalists. “Earlier, there was a cloak of secrecy around government offices and it was tough for journalists to get to the truth. Now, barring some exemptions in the law, the young journalist can access documents of civic affairs or those of national importance. However, because training is lacking during his/her media education days, most young journalists in our country are indifferent to this powerful tool which can open up information quickly including file notings. We will hopefully equip students with the necessary confidence to file RTI, besides educating them about the law.”

     With the government attempts to dilute the RTI Act every now and then, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar believes that enlightening young minds on this law will throw up a whole new generation of RTI-informed citizens, making it difficult for the government to muddle around.

    (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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    COMMENTS

    Rajkumar Singh

    7 years ago

    So much exercise is being done to educate the people about the usefulness of RTI power, but if the common understanding of having a power to have a SAY in the election and selection of the politicians or candidates are not there, any other ACT will be for only self-aggrandisement to play, "DIVIDE and RULE", Comments for and against, Like and Dislike, throughout our troublesome journey of life, where only handful 5% of the 120 crore population will be deformed, corrupted and benefited under the guise of reforming the 104 crore citizens of our country!

    RTI Act is in the public interest, but it is becoming a tool for the vested interests only.

    We have to plan a strategy which benefits the remaining 95% also without wasting time for any other acts which are going to benefit only 5% of the public!

    WAKE UP! JAAGO DUNIYA, JAAGO! Now or NEVER!

    Hurrah! India stands second in the world in global RTI rating

    The world’s first ever RTI rating analysis conducted to find out how strong are the provisions of RTI law in 90 countries which have implemented the RTI Act, has thrown up surprising results with lesser known countries having stronger laws

    Consider this: When, The Associated Press, in early 2011, filed Right to Information (RTI) request for information on terrorism charges and convictions in 105 countries, it got its reply from Turkey within a week; India, within a month; Mexico within two months; while the Canadian government sought a 200-day extension to give the reply. According to news reports, only 14 countries responded with the full information within their legal deadline; most countries did not provide any of the information asked for. The FBI too took six months and at the end of it, gave only vague replies.

     

    Hence, it is not surprising that leading countries with otherwise good governance like USA and UK are ranked 39th and 28th in a comprehensive world-wide RTI Rating Project undertaken by Centre for Law and Democracy based in Canada (which stood 52nd) and Spain-based Access Info Europe. The results of the two year study were recently unveiled and showed that India ranked second having scored an impressive 130 out of 150 points with Serbia ranked first with 135 points.
     

    The study was “a comprehensive comparative analysis of the legal frameworks for accessing information in each of the 90 countries where such a system exists.” Which means, the focus was only on how strong are the provisions in the RTI laws of the 90 chosen countries and not on how effective is the implementation, as that would be a cumbersome and complicated endeavour. Besides being assessed on 61 main indicators, the rating was given under seven different categories: Right of Access, Scope, Requesting Procedures, Exceptions and Refusals, Appeals, Sanctions and Protections, and Promotional Measures. The total count was 150 points. “The indicators were drawn from a wide range of international standards on the right to information, as well as comparative study of numerous right to information laws from around the world,” states the http://www.law-democracy.org website.

     

    The study was initiated by Toby Mendel, president of Centre of Law and Democracy, Canada. Before founding the Centre for Law and Democracy in January 2010, Toby Mendel was for over 12 years senior director for law at ARTICLE 19, a human rights NGO focusing on freedom of expression and the right to information. He has provided expertise on these rights to a wide range of actors including the World Bank, various UN and other inter-governmental bodies, and numerous governments and NGOs in countries all over the world. Experts who reviewed India’s scoring points were Venkatesh Nayak and Anjali Bhardwaj for India and members of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI), which works to raise public awareness of RTI amongst people and communities.

    Some of the indicators amongst many others that favoured India were: “Right to information has been recognised as constitutional by the Indian Supreme Court on numerous occasions; information can be sought in writing or electronically or orally with a minimum of required procedure; it is available for the illiterate; for the disabled; for those below the poverty line; there is a mandatory public interest override so that information must be disclosed where this is in the overall public interest, even if this may harm a protected interest.”

    In the comments, Venkatesh Nayak and Anjali Bharadwaj have made the following observations which give a balanced overview of the RTI Act in India: “India has long been recognised as one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to access to information, but its failure to top this ranking is demonstrative that global standards of the right to access have advanced considerably since India’s law was first passed. This is not to say that India's legal framework is bad.

     

    “As this score indicates, it remains one of the top countries in the world, but there are several problems with India's access regime. Chief among these are the blanket exceptions in Schedule 2 for various security, intelligence, research and economic institutes. Instead of such broad and sweeping exclusions, these interests should be protected by individual and harm-tested exceptions. The Indian legal framework also does not allow access to information held by private entities which perform a public function, and several of the law’s exclusions, including for information received in confidence from a foreign government, cabinet papers and parliamentary privilege, are also problematic”.
     

    As for the USA, the leading country of the world, expert observations were: “Overall, the USA is a good example of a country where practice outstrips the legislative framework, and it is quite possible that this score undervalues the true openness of the United States government. Nonetheless, there are significant problems with USA’s access regime which negatively impact the right to information in that country. For instance, exceptions within the law are in many instances not harm-tested and there is only a very limited public interest override. The United States also lacks a specialised appeals body and, while American courts have been somewhat good in defending the right to information, they cannot do the job as effectively or expeditiously as an independent appeals body.”

     

    Pakistan, which implemented the law in 2002 is ranked 66th.  According to an article based on this study in International The News of Pakistan, “Pakistan is among the last 20 countries in the Global Right to Information (RTI) rating, ranking 72 out of a total of 90 countries surveyed, with neighbouring India coming in at third place and other countries in the region, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, also doing exponentially better than Pakistan. Even Mexico, otherwise considered very hostile to journalists, has been ranked seventh while Ethiopia, another country described unsafe for journalists, has earned the tenth position. Yemen too boasts of more liberal access to information than Pakistan, ranking 20th on the index.

     

    “Citizens’ right to information is also a fundamental human right affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, here in Pakistan, Sherry Rehman’s Right to Information Act has been floating around from one standing committee to the next for the last few years, with no logical end in sight. This is unfortunate, given that a working right to information law could enable people to ask important questions about the government and rightly unearth fraud, corruption and poor governance. Legislation on the right to information is part of the fundamental task of redistributing power in any democratic framework. While other countries in the region are redefining and reinventing vibrant forms of democratic participation, Pakistan keeps moving further back in time, incrementally isolating its citizens from the processes and practices of governance. This must change.”

     

    Scores of some important countries are: Germany-54; Russia- 60; Japan-67; China-72; Canada-79; Australia-84; USA-89; and UK-97.

     

    For those complaining about the power of the RTI Act in India, this would not only be an eye-opener but should inspire us to use it effectively and in large numbers.

     

    (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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