Prez inputs on foreign visits cannot be disclosed: MEA

New Delhi: The inputs given by President while deciding the itinerary and duration of foreign visits undertaken by the Head of State cannot be made public, the External Affairs Ministry has said in an RTI reply.

A Lucknow-based RTI applicant had sought to know from the President`s Secretariat the details of inputs given by the President or officials of the President`s Secretariat while deciding on the duration, itinerary and destinations of all the foreign visits undertaken during the tenure of President Pratibha Patil and former President APJ Abdul Kalam.

The Secretariat forwarded the application to External Affairs Ministry for a reply. The Ministry`s Protocol Division said it has no information on the subject.

Later, when the appeal was filed before the senior officials of the Division, they came up with a new explanation to deny the information and cited section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act which prohibits release of information which could adversely affect relations with other countries.

"The duration, itinerary and destinations of such high level visits are fixed in consultation with the President`s Secretariat, Indian Missions abroad, foreign States, and also keeping in mind different aspects of bilateral relations including sensitive issues. Keeping this in mind, copies of relevant correspondence on deciding duration, itinerary and destinations cannot be disclosed under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act.(…information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect India`s relations with foreign States…)," Chief of Protocol Ruchira Kamboj said in her order on appeal.

Patil had travelled to 23 countries during her tenure with an expenditure of over Rs 205 crore while former President A P J Abdul Kalam undertook seven trips to 17 countries during his five-year tenure, an earlier RTI reply had revealed.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson had said in a statement that the profile of the country has changed and there has been increased engagement with the rest of the world. "The number of visits of other heads of state to India including multiple visits have also increased. It is only natural that reciprocal visits are required to be made," the spokesperson had said.

The Ministry in its RTI reply said that views and comments of the President`s Secretariat are sought while deciding on the duration, itinerary and destinations of all the foreign visits undertaken by the President.

Meanwhile, President`s Secretariat replied to one of the queries in the RTI application which related to inputs given by President Patil while deciding overseas visits. "Prior to each State visit, the President is given a detailed protocol and substantive briefing by the MEA officials on the detailed programme and engagements to be undertaken during foreign visits," it said.

The Secretariat said the minutes of these visits are not maintained by it and there are no file notings in this regard. The applicant said an appeal against the reply has been filed with the senior officials of the Secretariat.