There has been a lot of media interest in the Prime Minister’s maiden visit to Israel. Newspapers have also written about the gifts presented by the PM to his Israeli counterpart. But the MEA has time & again refused to disclose details of the type and value of the gifts presented by the PM to his foreign counterpart. We look at MEA’s strange stand and why it doesn’t make any sense.
The Indian media has been agog with the Prime Minister’s maiden visit to Israel. Among other things, the media has reported in detail about the gifts presented by Narendra Modi to his Israeli counterpart. In the past, multiple applications under Right to Information (RTI) have been filed with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) seeking information about the nature & value of gifts presented by the Prime Minister to foreign dignitaries. The MEA, for some strange reason has been refusing to disclose such information citing an exemption clause in the RTI act.
What are the rules governing gifts presented to Foreign Dignitaries?
The foreign recipients of gifts are divided into five categories as per the response to a RTI application by the MEA. The following people could be the recipients of gifts.
- During Outgoing Visits: During the outgoing visits of the President, Vice-President & the Prime Minister of India, gifts are generally presented to Head of State, Head of Government, their spouses, High local dignitaries, Governors/Chief Ministers etc.
- Incoming VVIP Visits: Gifts are presented by the Indian host to the VVIP, his/her spouse and the accompanying cabinet minister.
- Other Incoming Visits: Gifts are presented only to the leader of the visiting delegation.
- Outgoing Official Visits: During the outgoing official visits of the Minister of External Affairs, gifts are presented to the counterpart in the host country etc.
- Outgoing Visits of Officials: During outgoing visits of the officials of the level of Secretary, gifts are presented to his/her counterpart.
Broadly speaking, the five categories of recipients of gifts are Head of State, Minister, Secretary, Official & Pool level. There are monetary ceilings for the purchase of gift items for each category and these ceilings are approved by the Ministry of Finance. These ceilings have been effective since May 2010.
But the MEA has always refused to disclose information on these ceilings. The MEA believes that disclosure of ceilings may cause embarrassment to both India & the receiving government. The MEA does not stop at that and goes onto say that such disclosure will affect bilateral relations.
‘Cannot reveal the value of gifts presented to Foreign Dignitaries’
MEA has a standard response to all such RTI applications seeking information of the type & cost of gifts presented by the Indian Prime Minister to Foreign Dignitaries.
In response to one application, MEA said that disclosure of the value of the gifts presented by the PM would have unintended effects on foreign relations because analysis/scrutiny and comparison between the quantum & value of gifts would be undesirable. MEA adds that such a comparison would defeat the purpose of generating goodwill between countries. MEA cites Sec 8(1)(a) of the RTI act that talks about exemption of any ‘information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence’.
In response to another application, MEA responded similarly refusing to disclose any information with respect to the type/cost of the gifts presented by the PM.
Why MEA’s stand does not make any sense
MEA’s stand on disclosure of gift related information does not make any sense because many countries have a policy of public disclosure of the gifts given & received by their heads of state. In addition, the Government of India itself through press releases discloses the type of gifts presented to foreign dignitaries.
Type of Gifts is already in the Public Domain: Refusing to reveal the type of gifts presented by the PM is silly because such information is disclosed by the government itself through various press releases. The press release about the gifts presented to Israeli Prime Minister is here. Similarly, the details of PM’s gifts to the Supreme Leader of Iran were also released by the government.
Other Countries disclose the value & type of gift: If the disclosure of information about the value of the gifts presented by the PM affects the bilateral relations, then our relations with various nations must be already in trouble. This is because many countries have a policy of public disclosure of the gifts received by their heads of state including the value & source of the gift.
For example, USA has a policy of disclosing the details (including the value) of the gifts received by federal officials including the President. According to the disclosure by US Department of State, below is the list of gifts with value presented by the Indian Prime Ministers to the President of United States & his spouse. The data is available from 2002 to 2015.
|Year||Details of the Gift||Value in US Dollars ($ )||Presented by|
|2003||Household item: 49″ x 72″ navy blue, pink and green ornate silk carpet.||1200||Atal Bihari Vajpayee|
|2004||Household accessory: 22″ white, orange, blue, red, and green round marble tabletop inlaid with red, coral, malachite, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, turquoise and agate flowers; held on a 15″ x 15″ folding wooden base.||550||Manmohan Singh|
|2005||Household accessory: 9″ x 6″ sterling Ravissant hinged box, engraved with Mughal Byta floral designs a replication of the Diwan-e-Am in the Red Fort at Delhi||500||Manmohan Singh|
|2005||Household accessory: 7″ sterling Ravissant lidded dish with intricate quilted design.||350||Manmohan Singh|
|2006||Collectable: 41⁄2″ x 2″ x 7″ handcrafted, silver-enameled (Meenakari) bald eagle perched on a rock; mounted on a 41⁄2″ oval shape dark wood base.||1200||Manmohan Singh|
|2008||Limited edition silver bowl with enameled yellow flowers and green leaves and two inscribed books titled, ”A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century,” by Upinder Singh and Gandhian Way: Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment.||813||Manmohan Singh|
|2008||4″ silver Hoopoe bird with Indian enameling known as Meenakari designed by Blue Bird and four ”Sound Scapes: Music of the Deserts, Valleys, Rivers and Mountains” CD set”||650||Manmohan Singh|
|2009||Burgundy rug with a foliate motif||1200||Manmohan Singh|
|2009||Book entitled ”Stories from the Panchatantra”; book entitled ”Ancient Tales of Wit and Wisdom”; book entitled ”The Puffin Treasury of Modern Indian Stories”; book entitled ”A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India”; book entitled ”The Gandhi Collection: History in the Making: The Visual Archives of Kulwant Roy.||3572||Manmohan Singh|
|2009||Beige pashmina shawl made by the Kashmir Loom Company.||666||Manmohan Singh|
|2010||27″ × 78″ Kashmir Loom blue cashmere stole with orange design, in a blue presentation box.||512||Manmohan Singh|
|2010||7″ long silver-colored jewelry box with bird designs, in a black presentation box.||460||Manmohan Singh|
|2011||20″ octagonal white marble table top with design of inlaid blue and yellow flowers, and octagonal stand decorated with blue and red flowers.||1375||Manmohan Singh|
|2014||Digital recordings, titles: ”Visit of Reverend Martin Luther King to India,” ”Visit of Mrs. Coretta Scott King to Accept Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding to Reverend Martin Luther King (Posthumously) for the Year 1966 in January, 1969, etc. Pink-red tablecloth, fabric with flower designs. Sheer tan tablecloth fabric with gold thread embroidery border. Book, title: Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Special-edition book, title: Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi and other gifts||7385.93||Narendra Modi|
|2015||Telegram facsimile from the U.S. to India’s Constituent Assembly in 1946. Reproduction of the cover page of a report on India’s Constitutional Debates. 17″ x 13″ framed photograph of Marian Anderson’s radio interview in India and other gifts||1231||Narendra Modi|
|2015||Hand-embroidered Shahmina shawl. Hand-carved wooden Jali box. Assorted Indian tea||662||Narendra Modi|
Even the United Kingdom has a policy of public disclosure of all the gifts given & received by the Prime Minister of UK.