New Delhi, Jan 23 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Monday granted a "last opportunity" to the Centre and the lieutenant governor to respond to Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot's plea challenging a provision which requires state government ministers, including the chief minister, to seek political clearances from the Centre for foreign visits.
The petition was filed last year in the backdrop of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being denied permission for his visit to Singapore for the 8th World Cities' Summit from July 31 to August 7, 2022.
At the outset, Justice Prathiba M Singh asked why replies were not filed by the authorities. The counsel for the Centre and LG said as a last opportunity, some more time be given to them to file their counter affidavits.
"Why are you not filing the reply. It cannot go on like this… Last and final opportunity is granted to file the counter affidavits within four weeks. List on May 22," the judge said.
The high court had on August 29, 2022, issued notices and asked the Delhi LG and Union government through Ministries of External Affairs, Finance and Home Affairs to file their counter affidavits in response to the petition.
The petition said this was not the first instance of such “abuse of discretion” and mentioned that the chief minister was previously denied permission to attend the C-40 World Mayors' Summit in Copenhagen in 2019 and even Gahlot had requested for clearance to visit London on an invitation but there was no response from authorities in the Centre till the time the request became infructuous.
Gahlot, who is an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, has sought issuance of guidelines to channel and guide the implementation of several office memoranda issued by the Cabinet Secretariat, empowering the Centre to grant or deny permission to state government ministers for foreign visits in their official capacity.
Gahlot, in his plea, said all these visits were on invitation and were crucial fora for exchanging ideas on improving urban governance and showcasing Delhi's own progress in urban design.
The alleged draconian manner in which the central authorities have used their discretion on travel clearances is only exacerbated further by the fact that even personal visits by state government ministers must be cleared by them, he said.
The petition sought quashing of the office memoranda (OM) to the extent that they require state government ministers to seek political clearances from the respondents for personal visits abroad.
The petition also sought quashing of the undated letter sent by the LG to the Delhi government on July 20, 2022, advising against the chief minister's proposed visit to Singapore.
It said according one of the OMs issued by the Cabinet Secretariat, clearances are required from the Department of Expenditure in the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the relevant Central Administrative Ministry and once these clearances are obtained, for visits involving a chief minister, a final clearance from the PMO is required.
"The whimsical and capricious manner in which travel clearances for Indian statespersons are treated is prejudicial not just to the interests of good urban governance in this case, but also national interests in global platforms generally.
Not only has the respondent no. 1 (LG) acted beyond his jurisdiction in advising against the Singapore visit, but the actual exercise of the powers conferred by the Office Memoranda above noted has been manifestly arbitrary and reflects unchanneled and unbridled use of discretion on part of the respondents,” the plea said.
It submitted that there appears to be no prima facie reason or basis for denial of clearances for this particular visit to Singapore, making the action of the authorities manifestly arbitrary and without any evident discernible principle.
“Such arbitrary and whimsical denial of travel permissions to important constitutional functionaries is a routine matter, and is often achieved either by prima facie illogical decisions or simply by delayed decision-making serving as a pocket veto,” it claimed. PTI SKV RHL