Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: Denial of a diplomatic passport to a Kerala minister, tasked by the state government to visit Saudi Arabia to assess problems of stranded Indians, was on Friday criticised by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan but External Affairs Ministry downplayed it.
Kerala Local self-government minister, KT Jaleel, was to visit Saudi Arabia for an on-the-spot assessment of difficulties being faced by thousands of laid-off Indian workers. He had applied for a diplomatic passport but it was not granted to him.
Describing the Centre's decision as "unfortunate", Vijayan "The Centre's stand denying permission to the state minister to travel to Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic passport is mysterious."
When asked about why Jaleel's application was rejected, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said there seems to be a "misunderstanding".
"The matter is not about the issue of a diplomatic passport; it is about the timing of the ministerial visit. At this time, the focus of our Mission and Consulate is on helping the Indian workers who are facing hardships and also on helping the Indian pilgrims who have arrived in the holy city of Mecca for the sacred Haj pilgrimage."
"Surely, it cannot be anybody's case that the Mission should not pay attention to the requirements of the Indian citizens, including those in distress," he said.
Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh had gone to Saudi Arabia three days back and held extensive talks with Saudi authorities to resolve the issue of Indian workers.
While criticising the decision not to issue the diplomatic passport to Jaleel, the Kerala Chief Minister, however, said the government does not consider that there was any political motive behind the decision.
"We accept that the Centre is making all efforts to mitigate hardships of those who had lost their jobs," he said.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said denial of the diplomatic passport to Jaleel was a "serious lapse" on the part of the Central government.
Permitting state ministers to travel on a diplomatic passport is a "usual procedure" and the action by the Centre was "condemnable", he said in a statement here.
"We cannot accept the Centre's decision and the union government should rectify this lapse and permit the minister to travel to Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic passport," he said.
Yesterday, the External Affairs ministry had sent an e-mail message denying the diplomatic passport to Jaleel.
BJP's Kerala unit said the ruling Left government's propaganda that Jaleel was denied diplomatic passport was a cheap one.
"The diplomatic passport is not one that can be obtained by request. It is a passport given to persons who go abroad to implement a mission assigned by the Centre," BJP state president Kummanom Rajasekharan said in a statement.