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Chatterjee cancels London trip

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called off a scheduled official visit to London earlier this month, after he was told he would be frisked at the airport, reports Varghese K George.

delhi Updated: Oct 08, 2008 01:06 IST
Varghese K George

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called off a scheduled official visit to London earlier this month, after he was told he would be frisked at the airport.

The British protocol department informed the Indian High Commission in London on October 3 that the Speaker would not be exempt from frisking — as has been the practice — prompting him to cancel the tour. <b1>

The Lok Sabha Speaker is in British protocol’s list of people exempt from body frisking, said a British source.

Chatterjee visited London several times during his four-year tenure and was never frisked. A British High Commission spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual cases.”

“It’s a matter of principle for me. I cancelled the trip because it involves the honour of the constitutional office I hold. I can’t understand why they did this, that too at the last minute,” said Chatterjee.

The Indian High Commission in London had written to the protocol department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office on September 25 informing it of the speaker’s arrival and 7-day stay in London. The letter also reminded the protocol of the exemption from frisking.

In its reply, the department wrote: “… search procedures are a necessary part… to ensure the security of all passengers. His Excellency Mr Somnath Chatterjee is not exempt from it… airlines are fully entitled to refuse any passenger who refuses to undergo search.”

The Speaker was to visit London on an invitation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Later, he was to tour Geneva to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meet, beginning on October 13. Now Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal will lead the six-member Indian delegation to the IPU.

This is the second time Chatterjee cancelled a foreign trip for the same reason. In April 2005, he cancelled a trip to Sydney after the government refused to exempt him from body frisking.