There has been much brouhaha over the issue of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi being exempted from getting frisked at the airports since way back in 2012 when the reports first surfaced in response to a RTI query being filed.
Since May 2014, when a new NDA Govt. came in media reports surfaced that Robert Vadra’s ‘No-frisking’ privileges would be finally revoked. Further, “media reports” of January this year suggested Vadra’s name has already been revoked from the list at airports. Last week however, TheNewsMinute broke an exclusive (read here) how a response to a RTI query filed by the TNM revealed that Vadra’s name on contrary was still on the ‘No-frisking’ list at the airports. Although there is a reason why it is so, this really outraged and angered a lot of people. We shall further discuss the reasons but first a short history regarding this case.
When the first reports regarding this case surfaced, inspite of much public outrage over the issue of why a private citizen should be extended such privileges, the then UPA govt. brazenly defended this move citing Vadra’s case to be “special” in lieu with his association to his wife – a SPG protectee – Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
According an RTI reply given to a group called RTI Anonymous in March this year, P Chidambaram’s ministry gave Vadra this exemption because he is a “special case”
The reply had this to say: “Shri Robert Vadra has been granted exemption from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports in the country on the recommendation of this ministry as a special case as he is married to a SPG protectee, i.e. Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in consultation with central security agencies.”
But after this cryptic note, the ministry gives no further details, citing exemptions from disclosure. “The details in this regard are exempted from disclosure under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act 2005. Shri Vadra has been exempted from pre-embarkation security checks at all civil airports only while travelling with SPG protectee,” the reply further stated.
The No-frisking at airports is usually extended to limited VVIPs such as Heads of States- Prime Minister, Presidents, Governors, among others, so they can board planes without going through multilayered clearance. However, under the UPA this privilege was extended to 33 categories from the President to Special Protection Group protectees.
Moreover, the SPG protection which was formed after the assignation of Indira Gandhi mostly for the protection of the Prime Minister and their immediate families; this has been further expanded to cover important dignitaries such as Presidents, the Speaker, The Dalai Lama and in this controversial case, to Mr.Vadra by his association to Priyanka Gandhi who aforementioned is an SPG Protectee.
It is important to Note that although in the original SPG Act, the protection cover to earstwhile Prime Ministers and their immediate families were of 5 years, the law was amended multiple times by Congress led governments to accommodate the Nehru-Gandhi family under this Act.
The Congress then demanded an amendment in the SPG Act to give security to Sonia Gandhi and her children. The Act was further amended by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991 to give SPG protection to all former Prime Ministers and their immediate family members for a period of 10 years from the date on which the former Prime Minister ceased to hold office. SPG cover for any period beyond this is based on an assessment to see if the level of threat justifies the continued provision of proximate security. Members of the Gandhi-Nehru family are the exception to that general rule. The Act has since been amended four times.
This really means that an Act (SPG), which has been amended four times in 17 years, can’t be amended one more time.
When the new BJP led NDA Govt., acting upon a complaint letter filed by a non-profit body, The Air Passenger’s association of India(APAI), urging to look into the special privileges enjoyed by such persons as Vadra of being exempted from frisking, the Civil Aviation Ministry decided to look into the matter.
It is to be noted that to remove a person from the ‘no-frisking list ‘, a due process has to be followed whereby the Civil Aviation Ministry consults with the Ministry of Home Affairs reviewing the threat perception to the person finally reaching the conclusion to whether keep or revoke the no-frisking privilege.
This brings us to the crux of the matter of why Vadra or any other VVIP categories other than the Prime Minister, President or Speaker might still be on the airprort ‘no-frisking’ list.
While most argue and urge for immediate revocation, it is forgetten that whether we one likes it or not a due process has to be followed.
The Civil Aviation Ministry acting upon the APAI’s complaint had written to the MHA between September – December last year for removing the privileges which exempted Mr.Vadra from being frisked however, the MHA was in dilemma since it had to look into a couple of issues.
After not having responded to the first letter, the Home Ministry now says that it is looking into the matter and an order would be issued soon. The aviation ministry in its two letters had told the home ministry that since Vadra does not hold any Constitutional post he cannot be given the privilege of not being frisked.
The home ministry before withdrawing this privilege has a couple of issues to look into. Since he belongs to the family of a former Prime Minister he was awarded security by the Delhi police commando security.
Finally, according to today’s Economic Times report (read here), a Civil Aviation Ministry official is quoted to have finally received clearance from the MHA which does not consider threat to Robert Vadra to be “grave enough to warrant inclusion in ‘no-frisk’ list”. The clearance from the Home Ministry came during the second week of June and the review is likely to be started soon whereby Robert Vadra and many other VVIPs would be likely to lose the ‘no-frisking’ at the airports privilege very soon.
(Special thanks to @ArmchairPseph for proofreading)