New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi courted controversy Wednesday after government sources were quoted as telling some media outlets that he failed to obtain due clearance for his trip to London this month. In contrast, another MP who was invited to the same event in London followed due process, The Times of India reported, quoting government sources.
Speaking at the ‘Ideas for India’ conference at Cambridge University in London on 23 May, Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government of launching a “systematic attack” on the country’s institutions such as Parliament, the election system etc.
Rahul was in conversation with Dr Shruti Kapila, Associate Professor of History, at an event described on the university’s official website as a “University of Cambridge Member Only Event”.
Asked about the former Congress president reportedly not following due process ahead of his trip abroad, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a press conference Thursday: “Rahul Gandhi has taken FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) clearance. He doesn’t need any political clearance.”
Surjewala had said in a tweet the previous day that Members of Parliament (MPs) don’t need “political clearance” from the central government prior to travelling abroad unless they are part of an official delegation.
However, according to guidelines in the Handbook on the Working of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Section 6 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, MPs do require the central government’s permission before accepting “any foreign hospitality”.
“The MP or MLA going abroad for a professional or personal visit has to take clearance from the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs), in case he or she is being hosted by a foreign national. This applies even in cases of friends. If the person is receiving foreign hospitality anywhere during that period, on that trip, a clearance is required. But, if he or she is visiting a close relative, then it is not necessary,” an MHA official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“Moreover, the MHA grants these clearances easily in all these cases. This is different from political clearance, which is given by the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) and should not be confused with that,” the official added.
Sources in the MEA said a clearance has to be sought whenever an MP is attending events abroad for which he/she has been invited in their capacity as an MP. These rules have been in place for years and was introduced to ensure that there is no fallout on national interest, said sources, adding that MPs also take clearances for personal travel abroad.
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What do govt handbook, FCRA say?
According to the Handbook on the Working of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, MPs travelling abroad must obtain “political clearance” from the Ministry of External Affairs and prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Pages 143-144 of the handbook state: “Under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976, it is inter alia, incumbent on Members of Parliament going abroad, to obtain political clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs and prior permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, where such visits involve acceptance of foreign hospitality from a foreign government or organisation.”
It goes further to say that the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs informs MPs from time to time about the procedure to be followed in this regard, adding that necessary assistance sought by MPs is also provided.
An earlier circular issued by former Lok Sabha secretary-general Snehlata Shrivastava, who served from 2017 to 2020, clarifies that this procedure is required even for non-official visits abroad.
The circular states that if any MP “directly receives an invitation” from the government of any country or foreign organisation, a copy of such invitation giving “full details of the purpose of the visits and the hospitality to be accepted” is to be shared with the MEA for “political clearance” and secretary of the MHA’s FCRA division for prior clearance.
Meanwhile, Section 6 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, clarifies that exemptions can be made to these rules only in the case of a medical emergency.
“No member of a legislature or office-bearer of a political party or judge or government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body owned or controlled by the government shall, while visiting any country or territory outside India, accept, except with the prior permission of the central government, any foreign hospitality.
“Provided that it shall not be necessary to obtain any such permission for an emergent medical aid needed on account of sudden illness contracted during a visit outside India, but, where such foreign hospitality has been received, the person receiving such hospitality shall give, within one month from the date of receipt of such hospitality an intimation to the central government as to the receipt of such hospitality, and the source from which, and the manner in which, such hospitality was received by him,” the section reads.
With inputs from Ananya Bhardwaj, Snehesh Alex Philip and Ishadrita Lahiri
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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