B Raman explains why details of expenditure on Sonia's foreign travels should not be revealed in the interest of her security
A controversy has arisen over the expenditure incurred by the government on the foreign travels of the leader of the Congress Sonia Gandhi.
Sonia is a member of the Lok Sabha and the head of the Congress. In either of these capacities, she often travels inside India as well as abroad. In addition to being an MP, she is also the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister.
By virtue of that, protecting her from any threat to her physical security, whether in India or abroad, is the responsibility of the Special Protection Group of the cabinet secretariat. She is what is called an SPG protectee and is covered under the SPG Act.
Providing SPG protection to her during her travels involves two responsibilities -- deputing a team of close-proximity guards of the SPG to protect her at her place of stay and during her movements and liaising with the local security authorities.
The SPG would have been authorised to incur the following expenditure on her foreign travels:
(a) Expenditure on the air travel and hotel stay of the SPG guards accompanying her.
(b) Expenditure on the vehicles that would have been hired for her movements in the place visited by her.
These are legitimate items of expenditure and nobody can object to it. Does the public have a right to know this expenditure? Yes it has, but not the details of the break-up as that could involve revealing details regarding the number of close proximity guards accompanying her while she travels abroad and the kind of special protection vehicles she uses.
These details should not be revealed in the interest of her security.
Sonia faces a high degree of threat to her physical security from the remnants of the Khalistani terrorists and the overseas sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The incident in London on the night of September 30,2012, in which a senior retired officer of the army, who had played a role in Operation Blue Star in the Amritsar Golden Temple in 1984, was attacked by as yet unidentified elements, indicates the danger and possibility of such threats being still alive.
The SPG unit responsible for her protection cannot afford to take risks with her security. Whatever, in their assessment, needs to be done for her security has to be done and the necessary expenditure incurred.
There is also a non-security related expenditure on her travels abroad. This would consist of the expenditure on her air travel and hotel stay and medical treatment.
There would be no dilution of her security by revealing these details. The government should not make an unnecessary issue of revealing them. The credibility of the government, the Congress and Sonia would go up if the government takes the initiative in revealing them.
In the case of Sonia, who is an SPG protectee, the drill is clearly laid down. When the chief minister of a state travels abroad, whether on private or official duty, the drill for his or her security, is not clearly laid down in matters such as under what head the expenditure on the security will be incurred, who will handle the security liaison with the local security agencies and what precautions are to be taken to prevent the penetration of the security party by the foreign agencies.
For example, Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi paid a high profile visit to China with an entourage. From the point of view of our national security, China is a sensitive country.
Who handled the security aspect of the visit? Who handled the liaison with the Chinese security agencies? Were the government of India and the Intelligence Bureau kept in the picture regarding any interactions with the Chinese security agencies in connection with Modi's visit?
What expenditure was incurred on Modi's security? How and under which head it was met? Was a report sent to the IB on Modi's return on all contacts with the Chinese security agencies for arranging for his security?
The credibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Modi will go up if he and his government shares these details with the public.