Exchanging gifts is a common practise in diplomacy when leaders go visiting or meet leaders of other countries. Different countries have different rules with respect to the gifts received. In India, these gifts go to the Toshakhana or given to the receipient based on certain rules.
The President of the United States (POTUS), Barack Obama was the guest for this year’s Republic day ceremony. Obama’s three day state visit to India was in the news for more than diplomatic reasons. In January this year, the Delhi high court asked the Center, the Delhi Government and also the Delhi police to retain thousands of CCTV cameras installed for the security of POTUS even after his visit for the safety of women.[orc]
Quite a few Indian Citizens were disturbed by this gesture by the Government installing thousands of CCTV cameras for the security of POTUS while it seems to have done precious little after multiple incidents of rape in the capital city. They filed multiple applications under the Right to Information (RTI) act seeking details about the expenditure on the visit and also details of gifts given to Obama.
RTI queries asking for details of total expenditure on the Visit of POTUS
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) received as many as 13 RTI applications till date asking for the details of total expenditure on the visit of POTUS. Some of them asked cost of installing CCTV cameras, cost for security, cost for accommodation of the POTUS & his staff. And interestingly, these applications came from across the country. The applications came from citizens living in New Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Karnataka, Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar & Uttar Pradesh. All of them sought more or less the same information, i.e., the expenditure incurred on POTUS visit to India. And the MEA had a standard answer to all these applications. That it did not have any such information on the expenditure incurred.
What about the value of the Gifts?
All the more interesting is the MEA’s response to applications that sought the information on the value/cost of the gifts presented by Prime Minister Modi to POTUS & his spouse.
In a standard response, MEA replied “The Prime Minister of India presents gifts, as per the laid down norms, to various foreign dignitaries. Information sought by you relates to value/cost of the gifts presented by the PM to the US president and family. However, disclosure of this information may prejudicially affect India’s relations with the concerned foreign State. Exemption is, therefore, sought under section 8(1) (a) RTI act 2005, wherein no such information as may prejudicially affect India’s relations with a foreign State need be disclosed”
It is amusing that the Government of India believes that revealing the value of the gifts presented by the PM would affect India’s relations with the USA. Amusing because of two reasons, one the MEA itself has a policy of public disclosure where it discloses the assessed value of the gifts received by the PM, the external affairs minister & other officials.
Secondly & more importantly, the USA definitely does not believe that disclosing the details & value of the gifts presented by foreign dignitaries affects the relations with any foreign state. They have 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 POTUS & his spouse. The details are available only from 2002 to 2013.
|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|
Sources: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, US Department of State.
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If some government department refuses to share certain data citing various reasons, what legal recourse is available to us, if there is one?
We need to make an appeal as per the provisions of the RTI act.