At least 21 proposals for foreign trips by 12 Union Ministers — nearly one-fourth of a total of 88 — were grounded after the NDA government took charge on May 26 last year, with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) directly turning down nine of them.
Of the rest, documents show that eight proposals were withdrawn by the respective ministries and four other trips cancelled after they were sent for approval, according to information provided by the PMO to The Indian Express under the RTI Act.
The proposals with the PMO that were affected — from May 26-December 26, 2014 — include those for private visits of ministers with three out of seven being cancelled or withdrawn. Of these, the then Minister of State (independent charge) for Culture and Tourism Shripad Yesso Naik withdrew proposals for two private visits — to Macau from August 15-17 and Bangkok from September 5-6. The MP from North Goa was shifted to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare after the Cabinet reshuffle on November 9.
Another private visit that was cancelled was by Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla who had planned to visit the US from June 26-July 6 to attend the graduation ceremony of her grand-daughter.
All the 88 proposals had been cleared by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) before they reached the PMO, according to rules which also state that the Prime Minister is the final authority on granting sanction for foreign trips by members of his Cabinet.
Sources said that while the previous UPA government was “liberal in clearing foreign trips for ministers”, the grounding of 21 proposals in less than seven months “is a record number for such a short duration”.
With six out of eight proposals affected, Shripad Yesso Naik also tops the list of those who were grounded. The documents include three prominent names whose proposals were directly turned down by the PMO: Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Shipping, Nitin Gadkari; Minister of State for Commerce and Industry (independent charge), Finance and Corporate Affairs Nirmala Sitharaman; and Minister of State for External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs Gen V K Singh —- the portfolios listed correspond to the dates of the trips (see box).
Gadkari failed to obtain approval to visit the UK and Holland from July 1-4 to “have discussions/study regarding the systems like the driver training and licensing, inland waterways and ports”. Sitharaman’s proposal to visit Bangkok to attend a UN body’s meeting from August 7-8 met with the same fate.
In the case of Gen V K Singh, the PMO turned down three out of 12 proposals for foreign visits. Two of those three were for trips in October to the UN to attend the general assembly and to Cairo for a conference on Palestine and Gaza, while the other was to participate in a convocation ceremony for a medical university in Ajman, UAE in November.
Of the eight proposals involving Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar, one to inaugurate of the Indian Film Festival and for talks in Beijing and Hong Kong from August 19-22 was withdrawn while approval was granted only to “two non-officials and a secretary’s delegation” to attend the 12th Conference of Parties (CoP) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the documents show. Also, the composition of the delegation accompanying Javadekar to Lima, Peru to attend the climate conference from December 9-12 was changed by the PMO, which excluded the Minister’s private secretary.
The Sunday Express had reported on December 21 on how the number of official foreign trips by secretary-rank officers had increased while those of ministers had dipped, indicating the approach to governance adopted by the Narendra Modi government.
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