It may not have been the best of times to take a vacation; it may not have been the worst either. As a despondent UPA government headed into the general elections in April-May this year, 11 of its Union ministers made 15 personal trips abroad. Of them, six applied to go to evergreen Dubai, including Praful Patel, Milind Deora, Shashi Tharoor, K Rehman Khan, Sharad Pawar and K Suresh.
The UPA ministers who took clearance to travel to places other than Dubai around the time of the polls were Praful Patel (for London, Zurich, May 5-12, and Malaysia, April 16), Sharad Pawar (London, May 1-7), Kapil Sibal (Istanbul, Prague, May 7-14) and Farooq Abdullah (Saudi Arabia, March 9-14).
Then Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh headed out to Dubai for five days just after polling got over (May 24-28). He had earlier gone to the city in January 2-7, the same month that Tharoor made his first visit to Dubai this year. Then Minister of State, External Affairs, E Ahamed was also there that month.
The Indian Express received this data in response to RTI applications seeking information about Union ministers granted clearance by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office for travel abroad in their personal capacity this year. There is an off chance that some minister might have cancelled his/her trip even after getting both the required clearances.
While Ajit Singh, Tharoor, Sibal, Rehman Khan and K Suresh confirmed they had travelled abroad, Pawar and Praful Patel did not respond while some ministers could not be contacted. Tharoor said, “It was a personal visit to meet my family with no cost to the government at all. All the official approvals and clearances were obtained in advance.”
Among those who received clearances from both the MEA and PMO (for a trip to Austria, May 7-13) but didn’t travel was Sachin Pilot. Former minister of state, Civil Aviation, K C Venugopal applied for a personal trip to Dubai but then decided not to go. He requested the PMO to clear his proposed visit to Dubai and Turkey in April 22-26 but later withdrew the application. PMO said his proposal “not processed as formal proposal and political clearance not received”.
Rajeev Shukla got clearance from the MEA and PMO to visit Malaysia (March 9-10) but, as he told The Indian Express, cancelled his trip. While he later got the MEA’s clearance to visit the US, UK and France during June 1-30 on a personal trip, the PMO said the request was “not processed as the Council of Ministers resigned”.
Former MoS, Power, Jyotiraditya Scindia got clearance for at least three personal trips this year, including to the UK (January 25-February 1), Dubai (February 22-28) and, after the results, to the UK and Italy (June 7-25). He could not be contacted for confirmation.
During his March 1-2 Dubai visit, then agriculture minister Pawar was accompanied by his officer on special duty D K Singh. He visited on the invitation of BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka Prabhakar M Kore to continued…