Rich Harvest of Gifts, But for the Govt Store
By Devirupa Mitra - NEW DELHI
Published: 02nd Feb 2014 07:43:38 AM
Today’s leaders choose not to accept official gifts for them from foreign shores, and these are either returned or sent to the Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) Toshakhana (treasure house) unlike in previous times when babus would undervalue items.
The latest list released by the MEA of gifts received from foreign leaders by government functionaries had a number of high value gifts.
Between October and December 2013, the gift harvest was quite bountiful. In November, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received high-end Rolex watches, valued at `9 lakh each.
However, they returned the gifts in the same month. Though in the list, next to the Prime Minister’s gift, it is mentioned that the “option of the recipient is pending”. This probably refers to the fact that at the time of compiling of the list, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may not have given technical confirmation whether the gift will be bought or released to the MEA for safekeeping.
Ansari and Singh were not the only ones to be the recipients of a liberal bounty. Congress President Sonia Gandhi was gifted a gold necklace worth `7.04 lakh. The MEA has already transferred it to the National Museum.
Even the PM also received a jewellery set during the same period, with the necklace and pair of earring valued at `1.2 lakh. He also received a bracelet worth `35,000 in October.
It is learnt that Sonia Gandhi’s necklace was certainly a gift from Prime Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, who paid a state visit from November 7 to 10 last year. The V-P and the PM’s high-value gifts were also probably from the same source. “The Gulf visitors are often very generous in gifts,” said a senior official.
Following an April 2013 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC), the MEA had put up the first list of disclosures of foreign gifts in November last year. Among the 41 gifts received during the July-September period, the most expensive was a Tissot watch worth `17,000 for a PMO official.
The public list does not disclose the name of the gift givers as the MEA had argued before the CIC that it would impact bilateral relations.
As per law, all government functionaries have to deposit their gifts at the Toshakhana for appraisal by the customs department. Based on the evaluation, the recipient is allowed to keep the gift if it is below a certain limit. If the price is appraised to be higher than the benchmark, the recipients have the option to buy the gift; otherwise it remains stored in the Toshakhana.
The MEA’s Toshakhana is at its headquarters in Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan, where it is running out of space to store the foreign gifts.