New Delhi: Government on Wednesday sought to put an end to a controversy, generated by President Pratibha Patil taking her two grandchildren on a 9-day state visit to Seychelles and South Africa, saying it is a "normal diplomatic practice".
"It`s a normal diplomatic practice that a visiting dignitaries occasionally takes members of his/her family on visiting trips. Hospitality for such visiting dignitaries in such cases is usually provided by the host government. It is not abnormal," official spokesperson in MEA Syed Akbaruddin told reporters.
He was asked if it was usual for the President to travel with her grandchildren.
Citing several examples of visiting heads of states travelling with their family members, he said it included the recent visit by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who was accompanied by his son, and former US President Bill Clinton, who travelled with his daughter Chelsea on a visit here.
"It is a normal and conventional diplomatic practice that visiting dignitaries takes those they are comfortable in terms of members of the family. Let`s us end this discussion because there are enough examples.....," Akbaruddin said.
Earlier also, President Patil`s foreign trips had raised eyebrows when a query made under RTI, filed by PTI, revealed that a whopping Rs 205 crore had been spent on her travel expenses since she assumed office in July 2007, surpassing the record of all her predecessors.
During her tenure, President Patil has undertaken 12 foreign trips, covering 22 countries across four continents and spending 79 days abroad.
A series of RTI applications had shown that Air India spent more than Rs 169 crore on use of chartered aircraft, always a Boeing 747-400, on the foreign visits of Patil who is mostly accompanied by her family members. An additional Rs 36 crore has been spent by MEA on accommodation, local travel, daily allowance and "miscellaneous" expenses.
Former President A P J Abdul Kalam undertook seven trips to 17 countries during his five-year tenure.
Meanwhile, President`s spokesperson Archana Datta said "Family members accompanying the President is no breach of protocol. This is a practice which is going on."
Prithvi Singh Shekhawat and Vedika Rathore, grandson and granddaughter are travelling with Patil on her current visit to Seychelles and South Africa.
"Most of the Presidents have travelled with their family members and guests in the past. It is also a reciprocatory gesture. These are normal courtesies being extended in diplomatic relations," Datta said.