External Affairs

Kerala Tourism Minister’s Visit to China Was Not in ‘National Interest’: MEA

A Kerala advocate had filed an RTI query with the ministry asking for documents and reasons for denying permission to Kerala tourism minister to attend a UN tourism meet.

Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran. Credit: Twitter/KeralaTourism

Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran. Credit: Twitter/KeralaTourism

New Delhi: Kerala tourism minister was not given permission to attend an United Nations tourism meet in China as it was not in “national interest”, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said in an RTI reply.

Last month, Kadakampally Surendran announced that his request for political clearance to attend the annual meeting of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UN WTO) from September 11 to 16 was denied by the MEA. This led Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to write a letter of protest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for reconsideration.

At that time, the Kerala tourism minister had claimed that no reason had been given for the denial of permission for the September event, for which he had applied a month earlier. After this became a political issue in the state, minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh said that permission had not been granted as “correct protocol arrangements” had not been put in place by the host.

A Kerala advocate D.B. Binu filed an RTI query with the ministry asking for documents and reasons for the denial.

In a reply dated October 13, the MEA acknowledged that the request for political clearance was received on August 23.

The ministry noted that requests for “clearance from political angle are examined in the ministry of external affairs as per guidelines issued by cabinet secretariat and other relevant entities from time to time”.

The reason given by MEA in the official RTI reply was a single sentence:

“Ministerial level participation at the aforementioned event was not deemed appropriate in national interest”.

In answer to another question asking for copies of protest letters from Kerala, the reply was that the documents were “not with the undersigned CPIO”. The answers were given by deputy secretary of the ministry’s East Asia division, Prasanna Srivastava.

Singh had said that India did not want to send “our people” to an event, if they could not meet the right officials.

“We are conscious that we do not want our people to be downgraded in the country in which they are visiting and that is the sole criteria… (it would not look good) if a junior official is meeting a minister,” he said.

The application for the UN WTO meeting in Chengdu was received in August, when India was grappling to bring the Doklam issue to a close with China. But during the two months there had been contacts and visits by Indian ministers and officials at BRICS-related meetings in China. The Doklam matter came to an official end – for now – on August 28.

While Surendran received the invitation at the annual event as a state tourism minister, there were about 1300 delegates at the UN WTO general assembly, which included 40 federal ministers. This included tourism ministers from Argentina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Egypt, Ghana, Israel, Indonesia, Mauritius, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Oman and Sri Lanka.

The Indian delegation listed officially as participants was rather low-key. Besides the Kerala tourism minister, Union tourism ministry’s joint secretary Suman Billa, principal secretary of department of tourism in India, Venu Vasudevan and Indian embassy’s counsellor (economic), Prashant Lokhande.