The Delhi High Court Monday granted a “last and final opportunity” to Delhi Lieutenant Governor and the Centre on transport minister Kailash Gahlot’s plea challenging the instruction requiring state government ministers to seek prior clearance for foreign visits from the Union government.
A single-judge bench of Justice Prathiba Singh observed, “This is a petition challenging the office memorandum relating to political clearance for ministers in the government of NCT of Delhi for travelling abroad. Notice was issued on August 29, 2022, no counter has been filed. A last and final opportunity is granted to respondents to file their counter,” listing the matter for May 22. The Centre through the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Finance are respondents in the matter.
The plea terms the requirement for seeking prior political clearance even for personal visits a “draconian and invasive regime”.
In the last hearing, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Gahlot, said, “This is an important issue requiring guidelines both on personal and official visits”. In July 2022, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was unable to visit the World Cities Summit in Singapore owing to a lack of clearance from the L-G and the Centre. Besides seeking a direction for framing guidelines with regard to foreign visits by ministers of states, Gahlot has also prayed for quashing of the L-G’s letter advising against Kejriwal’s proposed visit to Singapore.
In the petition, it has been argued that any discretion enjoyed by the L-G and the Centre to deny state functionaries the permission to travel abroad for private reasons, on grounds of ‘political clearance’, “is per se an unconstitutional infringement of the right to privacy protected under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as the dignity of the constitutional office held by the functionaries”.
Gahlot, in the petition, has further said that the CM was previously also denied permission to attend the C-40 World Mayors’ Summit in Copenhagen in 2019. “The petitioner, who holds the portfolio of Transport in the Council of Ministers, Government of NCT of Delhi, had also requested clearance to visit London on the invitation of Transport for London but shockingly, there was not even a response from the concerned authorities in the central government till the time the request became infructuous,” the plea read.
The petition states that all these visits were on invitations, and were crucial platforms for exchanging ideas on improving urban governance and showcasing Delhi’s own progress in urban design. “The draconian manner in which the respondents have used their discretion on travel clearances is only exacerbated further by the fact that even personal visits by state government ministers must be cleared by the respondents,” Gahlot has said in the plea.