MHA may reject demand to let officials retain foreign trip gifts

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 03, 2015 02:56 IST

The home ministry is likely to turn down a foreign ministry demand to let officials and ministers take home most of the expensive gifts they receive on foreign trips.

The foreign ministry had asked their counterparts at the home ministry for a threefold increase in the value of gifts that officials can retain without paying a rupee.

The home ministry administers the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act that regulates receipt of gifts from foreign sources.

The home ministry had fixed a ceiling of Rs 5,000 for these gifts in 2012. This meant that officials could only retain gifts valued in excess of Rs 5,000 after paying the difference. An official said there appeared to be no ground to accept the foreign ministry’s suggestion to raise the ceiling just four years later.

Already, the official said the system to put a price on the gifts was far from perfect. A panel headed by a foreign ministry official, that also comprises a customs appraiser, carries out this exercise but usually comes up with a very conservative estimate.

In a formal request sent across in February this year, the foreign ministry wanted to enhance the monetary ceiling to Rs 15,000 “given the increase in costs over the years”.

A government official said this was a dubious argument since the return gifts presented to the dignitaries were paid for by the exchequer. In 2013-14, the foreign ministry had spent Rs 28.3 million on buying gifts for foreign dignitaries.

Incidentally, home ministry officials had mooted a proposal to let officials retain multiple gifts received during a single trip up to a limit of Rs 15,000 (provided each item is valued at less than Rs 5,000).

But, then home minister P Chidambaram spiked the move. “It was felt that we should not leave any scope for a foreign trip to be seen primarily as a source of profit to the member of the delegation,” a note by then joint secretary GVV Sarma recorded after the meeting with Chidambaram said.

Gifts that are not bought back by the recipient go to the government’s Toshakhana, where they are kept double-locked in its strong rooms.

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