President’s tours: Economy travels or economy of truth?

President Pratibha Patil visited eight countries in less than Rs 2 lakh. Don’t believe it?  If the response to an RTI application is anything to go by, Patil has managed the unbelievable.

The details of the president’s travel expenses were provided in response to the application filed by Chetan Kothari, a resident of Mumbai, who sought details of the expenditure on the presidents’ visits over the past five years.

As per the 130-page reply, Patil visited eight countries during four foreign trips between July 2007 and April 2009. The cost of these visits adds up to Rs 1,95,251. The expenses were incurred under the budget head “tour expenses”.

According to the reply, the expenses of the president’s domestic tours are borne by the Ministry of Defence, while the Ministry of External Affairs bears the expenses of foreign visits.

“There is some discrepancy in the data. They have not given me the break-up of the expenditure. Secondly, the document says that she visited Brazil, Mexico and Chile at the expenditure of just Rs 12,878. How is that possible?” asks Kothari.

The president flies on a special plane, which is why the disclosed amount does not even cover fuel costs. Spain, Poland, Bhutan, Vietnam also figured among the countries visited by the president.

Details of foreign trips made by former president APJ Abdul Kalam were also made available. Kalam made six foreign trips between July 1, 2004 and April 28, 2007 at a cost of Rs 14 lakh.

“I will lodge a complaint against the public information officer of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for providing wrong information,” says Kothari, who plans to approach the Central Information Commission (CIC) soon.

Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, deputy secretary in president’s secretariat, however, told Governance Now: “The information provided was not updated at the time. The applicant can get the updated information now if he wants. In any case, the ministry of external affairs deals with the president’s foreign trips.”

When Governance Now relayed this response to Kothari, he said there were gaping holes in it. “They (the president’s secretariat) should have mentioned in their reply if the information was not updated at the time. Secondly, if they did not have the information, it was their job to forward the application to the ministry of external affairs. Why do I have to approach them again? As per the law, I can file an appeal before the CIC, and that is what I will do.”

This appeared on governancenow.com January 10, 2010

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