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Gift scam: How babus bypassed minister

delhi Updated: Jan 11, 2012 12:53 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
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It's not difficult to circumvent an order even if it comes from the minister himself and it doesn't matter even if it means putting the country's prestige at risk.

This is what is emerging out of an internal probe ordered by external affairs minister SM Krishna as well as HT's own investigation into the MEA's protocol division purchasing inferior quality gifts at inflated prices.

More than the cost, bending of rules has embarrassed the country as these inferior quality goods were taken as gifts by Krishna for foreign dignitaries during his visits.

The same division also has a say in getting the gifts that the President, vice-president and the Prime Minister carry during their visits abroad.

One such example is Krishna's visit to Myanmar in June 2011. An ebony photo frame with silver lining worth Rs 5,787 (plus value added tax) was bought for Rs 14,000 for the trip. A silver plate with (just about 60% purity) worth Rs 22,755 was bought for Rs 40,000, shows the probe. Both the articles were bought from the Pragjyotika, Assam Emporium.

It has now emerged that the officials in the protocol division were acting to circumvent Krishna's January 2011 order.

The order said the gifts should be sourced through state emporiums/ PSUs. This was aimed at curbing private vendors and for promoting indigenous arts of different states.

But these suppliers stayed on, manipulating the system. This was done with the help of some officials in the MEA. These vendors became the suppliers to emporiums.

The probe team's report refers to three vendors "who used to supply the gift items earlier from their firms" and have since signed MoUs with MP and Assam emporium. The emporiums also incurred huge losses.

"The private vendors used the billing system of the emporiums... the emporiums got nominal percentage...In some cases, it's as low as 5%," an official, who was part of the probe, said.