New Delhi: Union ministers will now require the prime minister`s prior approval before proceeding on official foreign tours and they will also have to keep the Prime Minister`s Office (PMO) informed even about their private foreign travel.
"Proposal relating to official visits abroad of central ministers (cabinet ministers, ministers of state holding independent charge), ministers of state or deputy ministers, require prior approval of the prime minister," an office memorandum issued by the Cabinet Secretariat says.
According to the letter, prior political and FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) approval will be needed for private visits by the minister during non-parliament session days, while the prime minister`s approval will be needed when the session is on.
"The Prime Minister`s Office should be kept informed of the proposed private visits. However, prior political and FCRA clearances are mandatory," the memorandum says.
The exhaustive document that gives a detailed outline for prior permissions needed for foreign visits by a union minister, says no official or personal staff is allowed to accompany the minister on his private visit.
Sources say the decision has been taken as the PMO is "irked" with the frequent foreign visits of some ministers.
The memorandum also pegs the size of the delegation accompanying a minister to a maximum of five members, including the personal staff of the minister, except when it is a joint working group. If the size of the delegation exceeds five, justification will have to be given for each additional member.
The memorandum issued last week also makes it mandatory for chief ministers and state ministers to inform the PMO of their foreign visits. Prior political and FCRA clearances are mandatory.
"The Prime Minister`s Office should be kept informed of the foreign visits, official or private, of chief ministers and ministers in states and union territories. However, prior political and FCRA clearances are mandatory," it says.
The guidelines also make it clear that the ministries should not take up directly with the foreign government or its representatives any proposal for a minister-level foreign visit, without the prior clearance of the external affairs ministry. Such visits should be undertaken only in response to formal government invitations from the country concerned.
"Proposals for minister level foreign travel may not be taken up by ministries/departments directly with either the foreign government concerned or its representations in India or elsewhere.... without prior clearance of the MEA," it says.
As regards international conferences abroad, the minister should attend only if it has been certified by the ministry that attendance is going to be at the level of the ministers, say the guidelines, stating that proposals in other cases will require justification to warrant their visit.
While the cabinet-rank minister is entitled to take his private secretaries along with him on foreign tours, the minister of state holding independent charge can also take a private secretary along.
The circular stresses that the exact date of departure and return should be indicated clearly in the note submitted to the Prime Minister. It reiterates instruction of the Finance Ministry and the external affairs ministry regarding expenditure on entertainment, contingencies, gifts, class of travel and hotel accommodation should be followed.
Where a delegation is headed by a minister, proposal for approval of the tour of the minister along with his private secretary or one person from his personal staff is required to be submitted to the Prime Minister while travel of the accompanying officers is to be sent to the Finance Ministry for concurrence of the screening committee of secretaries.