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Jashodaben’s security cover to stay; the jury is out on rules for privileges

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wife, Jashodaben, who lives in Unjha town of Gujarat’s Mehsana district, has raised concerns over her security cover, citing the case of Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her bodyguards. But the Special Protection Group (SPG) Act of 1988 (amended in 1991, 1994 & 1999) is clear that a prime minister’s family – wife included – must be given protection at all times. So far as entitlements and privileges of a PM’s wife are concerned, the rules, though, are not as clear.

The Salaries & Allowances of Ministers’ Act of 1952, which applies to a prime minister as well (except in the case of accommodation), provides details of free travel and medical facilities that the family is entitled to, but it has a “residing with” clause for spouse, legitimate children or stepchildren. “…provided that the spouse or legitimate or stepchildren are residing with and are wholly dependent on the minister, as the case may be…”

Legal experts point out that the “residing with” clause is a matter of how it is interpreted. A lawyer says: “A wife is a wife and should be entitled to all privileges”. Another view is that “residing with” should not be read too literally.

Jashodaben has sought details of her entitlements, protocol and security cover through a right to information (RTI) query on November 24 and asked for a reply within 48 hours. “I have been given protection as per protocol. Please do elaborate what other kinds of services can I get as per the protocol…,” her RTI has asked, among other things.

The various legislations do not specify the exact privileges of a PM’s wife but a civil servant points out wives of many past PMs have had dedicated staff of their own, including personal assistants and secretaries.

The SPG Act does not talk about any special transport arrangement for a PM’s wife or children but an official says the government could consider providing a vehicle to Jashodaben if it sees a security threat to her.

The SPG Act says “proximate security” must be given to all protectees, including a PM’s wife, wherever she is. It is about protection provided from “close quarters, during journey by road, rail, aircraft, watercraft or on foot or any other means of transport and shall include the places of functions, engagements, residence or halt and shall comprise ring-round teams, isolation cordons, the sterile zone around, and the rostrum and access control to the person or members of his immediate family.” In several earlier instances, SPG protection has not been lifted even in tough situations.

In fact, for the immediate family members of the then prime minister H D Deve Gowda, the force had to set up local stations.

Among privileges that the PM enjoys are an official residence (7, Race Course Road), personal staff, prime ministerial car (currently BMW), exclusive aircraft (Air India One) and SPG protection.

On a day when SPG was in the news, the government announced it was looking for a new chief for the force looking after the PM’s security. The tenure of SPG Director Durga Prasad, a 1981-batch Andhra-cadre Indian Police Service officer, ended on November 2. Tuesday’s announcement meant he would not get an extension.

BEING THE PM’S WIFE
Privileges and entitlements

  • Free health care in any govt hospital
     
  • Free accommodation
     
  • 48 single air journeys in a year (alone or with the PM)
     
  • Free first-class rail pass for journey from place of residence to New Delhi during Parliament session*
     
  • No frisking at airports while travelling abroa

* Applies to the spouse and family of a Lok Sabha member
Source: Homes ministry, Parliament website, other agencies

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