The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trip to America hits court roadblock

Jaipur, June 18: Rajasthan High Court has questioned the rationale behind the proposed visit of chief minister Ashok Gehlot and a dozen senior government functionaries to the US to attend the International Rajasthani Sammelan next month.

Taking suo motu cognisance of a June 13 report on the proposed visit, Justice S.K. Keshote yesterday issued notices to the state chief secretary, additional chief secretary (finance) and the Union of India through its secretary, external affairs ministry.

The story was published ahead of reports suggesting the Centre had turned down Gehlotís request for the trip.

The court said while the government complained it was short of money, it had no hesitation in spending public funds on a visit by ministers and officials. The trip was not in the public interest in view of the funds crunch caused by four years of drought, it added.

Justice Keshote pulled up the government for not showing any interest in providing the poor justice and said it had no control over extravagance.

Had the government requested expatriate Rajasthanis to finance the trip by pointing out the state of its funds, they might have agreed to foot the travel bill for a few people, the court said.

The judge instructed the court administration to treat the reports as a writ that was presented yesterday. The court notices are returnable by June 30.

The courtís observation must have further riled the government as the ministry of external affairs had already turned down Gehlotís plea for attending the sammelan, being organised by expatriates under the banner of the Rajasthanisí Association of North America.

The ministry is understood to have denied official status to the chief ministerís visit as the function is privately organised, with the government having no role in it. It clarified that Gehlot was free to go in his private capacity.

The state government counters that the visit by Gehlot, two ministers and eight officials is aimed at establishing links with expatriate Rajasthanis to attract industrial investment to the state and promote tourism.

The North American association had participated in the International Rajasthani Conclave which the state organised in 2000 with great fanfare. The association decided to return the favour by inviting Gehlot as chief guest.

It is being pointed out that Gehlot is the third Congress chief minister to be denied permission to travel abroad. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh was not allowed to visit Vancouver, Canada, for a Dalit conference.

Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit was denied permission to visit the US to attend a mayorsí conference and receive an award for implementing CNG and making her state pollution-free.

Most disappointed at the turn of events are senior IAS officers who had promised their wives a US visit. One officer said the state government had already sent few tonnes of publicity material to the association ahead of the conference.

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