The story so far: Delhi Lieutenant-Governor (LG) Vinai Kumar Saxena recently advised Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal against attending the World Cities Summit in Singapore as it was for “mayors of cities”. Now, State Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot — who had also sought political clearance for an official visit to London — has moved the Delhi High Court with a plea to set aside the need for travel clearances by the Centre for private foreign visits of State government Ministers. He has also asked for the framing of appropriate guidelines with respect to the clearances for official foreign tours of Chief Ministers and other State government members.
According to the petition, on April 5, the Chief Minister received an invitation from the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister of Finance and Development Singapore, to participate in the World Cities Summit scheduled from July 31 to August 3. The State government’s Deputy Security (Protocol), through a letter dated June 3, requested that all necessary clearances and arrangements for the visit be made. On June 7, the file was submitted for sign-off to the LG office. On June 3, the petitioner had applied for political clearance for his official visit to London from June 12 to 19.
Additionally, the petition also mentioned another instance wherein political clearance for the Delhi Chief Minister’s proposed visit to Copenhagen for attending the 7th C-40 World Mayors Summit in October 2019 was rejected by the MEA “without providing any reasons”.
On August 16, 1982, the Cabinet Secretariat had issued an office memorandum titled “‘Guidelines regarding foreign travel of Ministers of State government and Union Territories and State government officials”, stating that foreign visits by members of the State governments in their official capacity would require clearances from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Ministry of Home Affairs, Finance Ministry, and the Central Administrative Ministry. It issued another order on March 30, 1995, reiterating the same.
The Secretariat circulated another order on September 3, 2004, modifying the provisions to the extent that the final orders were to be issued by the Finance Ministry. The following directive dated November 2, 2004, stipulated that Chief Ministers required further approval from the Prime Minister’s Office before an official visit. On August 26, 2010, yet another office memorandum made political clearances mandatory before private visits of Ministers in State governments, which was reiterated through an order on May 6, 2015.
The petition seeks a quashing of the 2010 and 2015 office memoranda which require State government Ministers to ask for political clearances for personal visits abroad.
As no decision on his application was received from the MEA, the petitioner wrote to the Ministry on June 27 raising concerns. He also sought data on the number of such clearances rejected in the past five years. Another letter was sent on July 4, asking for the statutory and constitutional grounds for denial of travel clearances.
Since the LG office had not yet responded on the Singapore visit, the Chief Minister on July 17 wrote a letter addressed to the Prime Minister requesting expedited clearances for the Singapore visit. On July 20, the LG wrote back stating that the visit to Singapore was “not advisable”, pointing out that it was primarily attended by mayoral heads and that, in any case, urban governance in Delhi was not the exclusive domain of the State government. The next day, the State government requested political clearance from the Centre directly. However, no communication on the decision has yet been received from the relevant Central government authorities, the petition said.
The petition argues that the need for political clearances from the MEA for personal foreign visits of State government Ministers violates their right to privacy and dignity of their constitutional office; that the “undated” LG letter advising against the proposed Singapore visit is beyond the jurisdiction of his office’s authority; that the use of “gross delay” to effectively deny clearances for official foreign visits, including the Chief Minister’s Singapore visit, is an “arbitrary non-exercise of power”; and that the manner of implementation of the relevant office memoranda on clearances for official visits “suffer from the vice of arbitrariness and un-channeled discretion”. It also states that the “arbitrary and capricious implementation” of the travel clearance Office Memoranda is against national interest and good governance, and impinges upon the right to travel abroad as guaranteed under Article 21.