MEA draws flak over expenses for VVIP visits

MEA draws flak over expenses for VVIP visits

The MEA informed the parliamentary panel that the government had incurred Rs 100 crore as “maintenance cost of aircraft of Air India for VVIP travel” in 2016-17 financial year.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has drawn flak from a parliamentary committee as it could not furnish the details of the bills against expenses incurred for foreign visits of President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, particularly for maintenance of the special aircraft of Air India.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs deplored the “lackadaisical approach” of the MEA and asked it to ensure “timely submission of the bills related to the visits” by President, Vice-President and Prime Minister to foreign destinations in order to ensure “fiscal discipline and prudence” in the ministry.

The MEA informed the parliamentary panel that the government had incurred Rs 100 crore as “maintenance cost of aircraft of Air India for VVIP travel” in the 2016-17 financial year. The cost had escalated to Rs 214.85 crore in 2017-18 and to Rs 420 crore in 2018-19.

The “VVIP travels” include visits by President and Prime Minister to foreign destinations.

The government had to spend only Rs 7.54 crore for foreign visits by Vice President in the 2016-17 financial year. The expenses for the same however had jumped to Rs 158.27 crore in 2017-18 before coming down to Rs 48.23 crore in 2018-19.

Kovind took over as President in July, 2017, succeeding Pranab Mukherjee. M Venkaiah Naidu replaced M Hamid Ansari in the office of Vice President in August 2017.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs asked the MEA to furnish the details of the bills for expenses involved both for “maintenance cost of aircraft of Air India” for visits by President and Prime Minister as well as the expenses for the visits by Vice President to foreign destinations. “(The) Ministry has stated that the number of bills accruing annually due to the foreign visits of dignitaries run into several hundreds. Compilation of this information therefore requires considerable time,” the parliamentary panel noted in its report on Demands for Grants (2019-20) for the MEA. The report, which was submitted to the Lok Sabha this month, quoted the MEA stating that it was in the process of compiling the data (about the bills for foreign visits by dignitaries) which would be provided (to the committee) “in due course”.

The committee deplored the “lackadaisical approach” of the MEA in furnishing the complete information about “expenditure made under this head (High Level Delegation)” despite “continuous emphasis” by it on the timely submission of the bills relating to the visits of dignitaries “in order to manage fiscal discipline and prudence in the ministry”.

Modi so far undertook 59 foreign visits to 103 nations since he took over as Prime Minister in May 2014. He visited some foreign nations multiple times too. The website of Prime Minister's Office shows expenses on chartering aircraft up to his visit to Singapore from November 13 to 15, 2018.

The Bills for chartering aircraft for all his latter visits—beginning with the one to Maldives on November 17, 2018 till the latest one to Brazil from November 13 to 15, 2019—were either under process or not received by the government.

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