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Maha probes officials’ tour to Israel in 2019

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government’s director general of information and publicity (DGIPR) on Tuesday started an inquiry into the tour of five of its senior officials to Israel in November 2019, an official familiar with the developments said, adding the probe comes on the heels of the demand by the Congress, which is part of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government, to probe if the Pegasus leak had any state connection
PUBLISHED ON JUL 21, 2021 12:32 AM IST

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government’s director general of information and publicity (DGIPR) on Tuesday started an inquiry into the tour of five of its senior officials to Israel in November 2019, an official familiar with the developments said, adding the probe comes on the heels of the demand by the Congress, which is part of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government, to probe if the Pegasus leak had any state connection.

The general administrative department, which governs the information and public relations department of the state government, has issued notices to the officials asking them to submit a report related to the tour, the official said, adding that the preliminary inquiry conducted earlier had found several violations of the set rules related to the foreign tours.

Five senior officials headed by a director of the department had gone to Israel between November 15 and 25, 2019.

“Notices have been served to the officials asking them to submit the details of the tours, including object, itinerary of tours, meetings that took place during the tour and the efforts by them to ensure that the department was benefited from their experience among others,” said an official from general administrative department.

When contacted, Dilip Pandharpatte, director general of information and public relations refused to comment on the issue.

“The officials had extended their tour by a few days, when the extension of any such official tour is not permitted. The permission from the chief minister of the state is mandatory for any such foreign tour, alongwith the ministry of external affairs, finance and home affairs is mandatory. Since the model code of conduct was in place when the tour was being chalked out, the permission from the ECI too was necessary. The DGIPR had taken the permission by the then chief secretary, but it was not sufficient. The rules also mandate for the official invitation from the government of the country they are visiting. In this case, the tour was planned on the basis of the letter given by consul general of Israel in Mumbai. We have found gross violation of the laid down rules related to the foreign tours of the officials,” another official from the government said.

Maharashtra Congress’s general secretary and spokesperson Sachin Sawant on Monday had demanded that the state government should probe if there were any links related to Maharashtra in the Pegasus leaks. “The illegal and unauthorised phone tapping done by IPS officer Rashmi Shukla, who headed state intelligence department during Fadnavis government, is being probed and the truth will soon come to the fore. But there are also doubts if there are any Maharashtra links to Pegasus leaks and any IPS officer who was posted at Mantralaya was working on it? A few officials from the office of director general of information and public relations (DGIPR) of the state government had visited Israel during the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The questions including if they got any training, by whose permission they had gone, did they submit any report to the government, how many times did they go to Israel, were there any scheduled meetings in Israel, had government had any correspondence with NSO or any presentation was made to the state government, need to be answered. A probe into the issue will throw light on these questions,” Sawant said.

Leader of opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday said the team of officers had gone to Israel but it was well after the assembly polls ended. “The team had gone to study the farming and farm techniques in Israel. Maharashtra government during my tenure as the CM, never had taken any services of the NSO. Let the government probe into the case.”

The DGIPR is also checking about several Israel tours of a senior officer from DGIPR during the Fadanvis government. The department is also has the information about the logistic support provided by a local agency in Israel. “The officials who went on tour may not have direct links with the alleged phone tapping controversy as none of them has any technical knowledge required. We believe that it was a leisure tour organised to oblige senior officials from the government,” a senior official from the GAD said.

Aditi Tatkare, minister of state for general administration, said she was not aware of any probe. “The publicity department does take cognizance of the media reports related to the government. I am not aware if any such probe has been started and if there was any officials complaint made by Sachin Sawant.”

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