Recently, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addressed a conference in Denmark through videoconferencing, with the Centre having denied clearance to a trip abroad.

Why clearance
For a foreign trip, public servants need political clearance from the External Affairs Ministry. Amid the controversy around Kejriwal’s visit, Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said, “We get hundreds of requests for political clearances every month from ministries, secretaries and bureaucrats. A decision is taken based on multiple inputs… It takes into account the nature of the event… It takes into account the level of participation from other countries and also the kind of invitation that is extended.”

Since 2016, applications for political clearance can be made online, on a portal opened by the Ministry. These are processed and clearance issued through coordination among various Ministry divisions.

Previous CMs denied
During the previous UPA regime, the External Affairs Ministry denied political clearance for trips by then Chief Ministers Tarun Gogoi (Assam, Congress) to the US and Israel, and to Arjun Munda (Jharkhand, BJP) to Thailand. Gogoi had wanted to visit New York for a “high level meeting” on April 2, 2012; a note from the Ministry said “ correspondence by a diplomatic Mission with a State Government being inappropriate”. About his proposed trip to Israel for an event on water and environment technology, the Ministry had said, “Concerned agencies would be hard put to provide special consideration for CM, Assam, both from the substantive and protocol angles.”

Debate over protocol
On June 14, 2014, then Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Lavasa (now Election Commissioner) wrote to then Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth that the “dilatory system” of the External Affairs Ministry clearing all proposals for travel abroad by officials should be changed. Seth forwarded the letter to the Ministry; then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh wrote back on August 13, 2014. She stressed it was the Ministry’s prerogative to decide on the suitability, desirability and level of participation of Indian officials in engagements abroad.

Other clearances
While all public servants need political clearance for foreign trips, different officers need different additional clearances. Chief Ministers, state ministers and other state officials also need clearance from the Department of Economic Affairs. For Union ministers, after getting political clearance from the External Affairs Ministry, additional clearance is needed from the Prime Minister, whether the trip is official or personal. Lok Sabha MPs need clearance from the Speaker, and Rajya Sabha members from the Chairperson (Vice President of India). For various ministry officers up to Joint Secretary level, clearance is given by the minister concerned, after political clearance. For those above that rank, the proposal needs approval of a screening committee of secretaries. Rules vary according to the duration of the visit, the country to be visited, and the number of members in a delegation. If the foreign trip involves the hospitality of organisations other than those of the UN, then FCRA clearance is needed from the Home Ministry.

Source: The Indian Express

(Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance)