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Info panel wants VIP gifts unwrapped

The Govt has been asked to make public the information on gifts received by the president, vice-president, PM and other senior government figures, judges of the SC and high courts, and three chiefs of the armed forces during foreign visits, reports Chetan Chauhan.

delhi Updated: Jan 21, 2009 23:17 IST
Chetan Chauhan

The government has been asked to make public the information on gifts received by the president, vice-president, prime minister and other senior government figures, judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, and three chiefs of the armed forces during foreign visits.

The Central Information Commission on Wednesday asked the Ministry of External Affairs to also state if the gifts received, since 2004, by those on its protocol list were deposited with the government or not.

Information commissioner Annapurna Dixit has given the ministry's principal information officer Pratap Singh 20 days to provide information.

In October last, Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, a Delhi-based Right To Information activist, had asked the cabinet secretariat for details of the gifts received by the president, vice-president, speaker, all Union ministers, governors, HC and SC judges and chiefs of armed forces. He had also sought details of the gifts that had not been deposited with the government.

But, Singh said the information couldn't be provided as it was not readily available. "Also collection and compilation of the information desired needs fresh efforts …, a process which will disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority," he said.

Rules allow the receiver to keep a gift worth less than Rs 5,000. For a more expensive item, the dignitary has to pay up the difference to keep it. A dignitary can keep only one gift of choice received during a foreign visit.

Unlike India, countries such as the US and the UK require public servants to declare the gift received during official tours. In the US, a gift worth more than $100 has to be declared.

After listening to both the sides, Dixit said, "The commission directs the principal information officer to provide information against all categories of political rulers and others."

The commission also asked the ministry to make an assessment of the gifts received, and provide information with the list of the protocol order within 20 days.