Current Affairs

Understanding the provisions for foreign visits of State government Ministers

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  • Categories
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    9th Aug, 2022
  • Context

    Chief Minister of Delhi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal denied to attend the ‘World Cities Summit’ in Singapore as it was for “mayors of cities”. 

    • Delhi High Court has got a petition for the framing of appropriate guidelines with respect to the clearances for official foreign tours of Chief Ministers and other State government members.

  • Background

    • In 1982, the Cabinet Secretariat issued the first memorandum which stated that foreign visits by members of the State governments in their official capacity would require clearances from the Centre.
    • In 2010, political clearances became mandatory before private visits of Ministers in State governments.
    • On October 11, 2019, Kejriwal had to address a conference in Denmark through videoconferencing, with the Centre having denied clearance to a trip there.
    • During the previous UPA regime, the MEA had denied political clearance to trips by then Chief Ministers Tarun Gogoi (Assam, Congress) to the US and Israel, and Arjun Munda (Jharkhand, BJP) to Thailand.

    About the issue

    • Delhi State Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot has moved court with a plea to set aside the need for travel clearances by the Centre for private foreign visits of State Ministers
    • Gahlot’s petition argues that the need for political clearances for personal foreign visits of State government Ministers violates their ‘Right to privacy’.
  • Analysis

    What is a political clearance?

    • This comes from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). This is required not only for public servants but any government servant for a foreign trip.
    • The decision is taken based on multiple factors such as the nature of the event, the level of participation from other countries, the kind of invitation that has been extended, and also India’s relations with the host country.
  • Do any other provisions exist?

    • Since 2016, applications can be made for e-political clearance, on the portal
    • These are processed and clearance is issued after coordination among various Ministry divisions, which is done through a dedicated ‘Coordination Division’.
    • Sources say the concerned ministry and the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) entertain an application only if political clearance from the MEA is attached with the request.
    • Without this clearance, no public servant can go abroad.
  • Has the issue of political clearance been debated in government?

    • On June 14, 2014, then Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Lavasa (who later resigned as Election Commissioner) wrote to then Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth that the “dilatory system” of the MEA clearing all proposals for travel abroad by officials should be changed.
    • Seth forwarded the letter to the MEA; then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh wrote back to him on August 13, 2014, stressing that it was the MEA’s prerogative to decide on the suitability, desirability and level of participation of Indian officials in engagements abroad. This practice continues.
  • What is the official mandate for the foreign travels for state ministers?

    • The Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of External Affairs should be kept informed of the proposed foreign visit, either official or private, of Chief Ministers and Ministers in the State Government/Union Territories.
    • However, prior political and FCRA clearances are mandatory.
    • Further, while granting political clearance, Ministry of External Affairs will also stipulate that they would be kept informed of the visit(s) when the same is actually made.
    • However, it has come to notice that despite these instructions, communications are still being sent by the State Governments to Prime Minister's Office for seeking permission or providing intimation regarding the foreign visits being/to be undertaken by the Chief Ministers or the Ministers of the State Government.
    • In view of the above it is once again reiterated that instead of PMO, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of External Affairs should be kept informed of the proposed foreign visit, either official or private, of Chief Ministers and Ministers in the State Governments/Union Territories.
  • On what grounds has the petition been filed?

    • Right to privacy: The petition argues that the need for political clearances from the MEA for personal foreign visits of State government Ministers violates their right to privacy and dignity of their constitutional office
    • Beyond the jurisdiction of LG: The “undated” LG letter advising against the proposed Singapore visit is beyond the jurisdiction of his office’s authority
    • Arbitrary non-exercise of power: That the use of “gross delay” to effectively deny clearances for official foreign visits, including the Chief Minister’s Singapore visit, is an “arbitrary non-exercise of power”
    • Suffer from the vice of arbitrariness and un-channeled discretion: That the manner of implementation of the relevant office memoranda on clearances for official visits “suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and un-channeled discretion”.
    • Against national interest and good governance: It also states that the “arbitrary and capricious implementation” of the travel clearance Office Memoranda is against national interest and good governance, and impinges upon the right to travel abroad as guaranteed under Article 21.

    Do judges need clearance for foreign trips?

    • For official foreign travel, the proposal by a Supreme Court or High Court judge is sent to the Department of Justice (DoJ) after taking clearance from the Chief Justice of India.
    • The DoJ, after taking political clearance from the MEA and in some cases from the Home Ministry (when FCRA is involved), issues approval.
    • Political clearance from the MEA was needed even for personal trips until February 11, 2010, when the DoJ decided to dispense with this necessity in case of private visits.
    • On February 15, 2011, the DoJ issued new guidelines, with restrictions particularly on the personal travel of judges of the higher judiciary.
    • These guidelines were challenged in the Delhi High Court, which struck them down on May 25, 2012. So, now judges do not need clearance for personal foreign trips.



    Significance of foreign visits of state ministers


    Concerns associated

    • Helps in Foreign investments in the States: Foreign visits of state ministers can bring agreements between the foreign ministers and companies to invite them for investing in their States.
    • Creates Employment: Investments and global stand will generate employment opportunities of youth of the State.

    • Giving pace to growth and development:

    Growth and development activities are the key to be addressed by the officials visiting abroad.

    • Threat to Security of officials:

    State ministers visiting abroad are liable for attacks due to lack of adequate security.

    • Against India’s Foreign regime:

    India’s foreign regime mentions the pre-agreement of the country state ministers are going to visit. Hence, GOI is not solely responsible for foreign visit clearances.

    • Local issues should not be global:

    Local issues of States getting global recognition can be detrimental for India’s foreign image among Nationals.

  • Conclusion

    State ministers’ foreign visit on the consent of Central Government is a clear violation of their Fundamental Rights and needs reforms by the Ministry of External Affairs. Though, it is also necessary to keep India’s foreign interest at first place.

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