Expensive gifts from foreign leaders languish in MEA treasury

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 08:39 IST

High-end Rolex watches, expensive French cut-glass lamps and diamond-studded gold jewellery sets –these are some of the over 1,400 gifts languishing in the foreign ministry’s treasury or toshakhana but officials don’t seem to have figured out what to do with them.

Six proposals were mooted over the last 30 years to auction the precious items – received by ministers and bureaucrats from foreign dignitaries -- but every plan either ran into trouble or wasn’t followed up, documents released under the right to information law show.

In 1998, for instance, the Toshakhana received approval from the minister for the auction, sent out invitations and printed receipts for receiving the proceeds, before aborting the move. In 2000, and again in 2002, there were attempts to revive the plan but they didn’t materialise.

The gifts that are double locked inside strong-rooms at the ministry headquarters were auctioned last in 1983 but only central government officials posted in Delhi were allowed to bid. The auction was a closed-door affair and many articles were sold well below their assessed value.

This was, of course, no exception with the foreign ministry proposing the same format in 1998 too.

In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised Rs 95 crore for the education of the girl child from auction of gifts he received during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat over the last 13 years, according to his website.

In February this year, he auctioned 460 gifts -- including his monogrammed suit that was sold for Rs 4.31 crore – with the proceeds going to the Clean Ganga Fund.
The foreign ministry says it has transferred 36 gifts including carpets, a sculpted ebony pillar and a set of two ostrich eggshell bowls to the prime minister’s office. Four jewellery sets worth Rs 60 lakh were sent to the National Museum but the institution refused them citing a space crunch.

Officials said alcoholic beverages – whisky and wine – that landed in the Toshkhana were often used in government parties. Another 50 items that could be used by officers were given to foreign ministry personnel.

Treasure Trove

a) The toshakhana is the repository of all gifts received from foreign dignitaries by government functionaries, numbering about 1,429 gifts as of November 1, 2014

b) Ministers and officials can only keep items valued at less than Rs 5,000. If the official or minister wants to retain an expensive gift, the person has to pay the price assessed by a customs appraiser.

c) The last auction of items in the toshakhana was held in 1983.

d) Proposals made to hold auctions in 1985, 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2002.

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