The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has released the latest installment of the declarations of gifts received by Indian officials from foreign dignitaries.
In the past year, according to the MEA’s disclosure of gifts deposited by recipient Indian officials, the most expensive items were presented to former Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
In the quarter of April to June, 2014, the MEA has disclosed a total of 88 gifts received by Indian officials, of which the most expensive are those received by the head of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marsal Arup Raha and former Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
According to the rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, any gift received by an Indian official from foreign dignitaries has to be declared to the concerned ministry or department sponsoring the programme, within a period of thirty days.
Any gift with a value over INR 5,000 has to be surrendered to the Toshakhana in the Ministry of External Affairs for assessment of its market value within a period of thirty days. Any item(s) with a value below INR 5,000 is returned to the recipient.
Recipients have the option to retain an item by paying the difference between its market value and INR 5,000.
Interestingly, the MEA does not reveal any details about the identity or nationality about the presenter of a gift in its declaration. According to a decision on an RTI (Right To Information) application appeal, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled in 2009:
…it is the considered opinion of the Commission that the information about the cost and description of the gifts may be disclosed by the Respondent while severing the information about the name/s of the donor of the gift viz. the name/s of the countries which had presented the gift/s, invoking the provisions of Section 10(1) of the RTI Act 2005.
This was on the basis of the plea made by the MEA that:
…adverse comments of the media and public on the gifts presented by foreign dignitaries/governments, which could jeopardize bilateral relations and cause serious embarrassment to the governments/countries concerned.
…any critical analysis/scrutiny and comparison between quantum and value of the gifts from various countries would be totally undesirable since it would defeat the very purpose of generating goodwill between the nations.
…uncalled for media coverage about the description and cost of the gifts presented by the various nations may vitiate the environment of bilateral exchanges and may in fact lead to violation of diplomatic conventions.