Renuka Chowdhury’s request for a foreign trip turned down by PMO; can seek comfort in the fact that there are 31 others, including Sharad Pawar, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Kapil Sibal, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi
As many as 37 requests for trips overseas from Union Ministers — including from powerful allies NCP’s Sharad Pawar and DMK’s A Raja — and several Secretary-level officers were turned down by the Prime Minister’s Office since the UPA Government came to power.
According to a detailed disclosure by the PMO, in response to an application filed under the Right to Information Act by The Sunday Express, the curb on foreign trips “is part of the overall economy/expenditure management measures adopted by the Government from time to time.” But a scrutiny of the list shows that the most common reason for turning down the request (see chart on next page) is that Parliament is on and the Minister can’t skip the session.
According to the list, Renuka Chowdhury, as Minister of State for Tourism, has earned the distinction for the maximum number of requests being turned down — six in all. “In view of Parliament session” was the reason attributed by the PMO for four of these rejections for proposed trips to Germany, USA, Senegal and Dubai in 2005.
Chowdhury ran into trouble with the PMO almost as soon as the UPA Government was formed. For her request for a visit to London in September 2004, the PMO noted that her proposed trip was ahead of the Prime Minister’s own tour and that the High Commission “would be busy.”
The most recent occasion her request was turned down was in January 2006 when she was disallowed from making an official visit to the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland. The PMO’s justification: “Minister may decline the invitation as a delegation has already been approved.”
There are several other Ministers who have similarly been snubbed by the PMO — on more than one occasion. Mani Shankar Aiyer, Minister for Panchayati Raj, Youth Affairs and Sports; Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi (as Minister for Water Resources) and Vilas Muttemwar, as Minister of State for Non-Conventional Energy, twice received a “No” from the PMO for their proposed foreign trips.
Other Ministers whose proposals were turned down “in view of Parliament session” are Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar; Kapil Sibal, (as Minister of State for Science and Technology); Kumari Shelja (as Minister of State for Urban Employment); Subodh Kant Sahay (Minister of State for Food Processing); A Raja, (as Minister for Environment and Forests); EVKS Elangovan, (as Minister for Commerce and Industry); Namo Narain Meena, (Minister of State for Environment); Shakeel Ahmed (Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology) and Manik Rao Gavit (as Minister of State for Home).
In some cases, the PMO has been critical while denying permission. For instance, Panabaka Lakshmi, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare was informed by the PMO that she could not travel to Slovenia since “the invitation was not from a Governmental organization” and Sriprakash Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home, was asked to cancel his trip to UK and France since “the visit is not important.”
Along with Ministers, there are nine occasions when Secretary-level officers failed to get the green signal from the PMO. These include:
- Reva Nayyar, (as Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development): Trip to Bangkok in September 2004 turned down, “in view of her visit to New York” for a UNICEF meeting.
- Secretary, Elementary Education and Literary Secretary, Department of Secondary and Higher Education both proposed to visit Brazil in November 2004 but the PMO ruled that “only one should accompany MoS and the other to look after both Departments.”
- Ashok Jha (as Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion): The PMO disallowed his trip to USA stating that the Minister and Secretary should not be away from “headquarters” at the same time. The Secretary DIPP was disallowed a second trip to New York , Washington and London with the PMO asking a Joint Secretary to represent the country.
- S C Tripathi, Secretary, Petroleum and Natural Gas received a no-no from the PMO for a proposed trip to London and Houston, for the same reason: Minister and Secretary should not be traveling abroad at the same time.
- Secretary, Ministry of Tourism was not allowed to visit Germany “in view of Parliament session.”
- Md Shakeel Akhter, Personal Secretary to the Minister of State for Home Affairs, was not allowed a four-week visit stay to Italy with the PMO reiterating that there was a “ban on independent visits of Private Secretaries.”
RITU SARIN: Sunday, January 06, 2008
No, Minister, you may not travel abroad: PMO