Charity auction

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
Friday, Mar 17, 2023

People around the world have always exchanged gifts to promote cordial relations with each other, but the case of gifts given to states differs in the sense that the gifts presented to the head of state are not in a personal capacity but at a diplomatic level.

Historically, the Persian word ‘Toshakhana’ was introduced during the Mughal era in the Subcontinent when it was established in the royal palace to preserve the gifts received by kings, princes and other members of the royal family. When the British arrived here, it was made mandatory for everyone associated with the East India Company to deposit all the gifts received in the Toshakhana.

Today, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – the three South Asian countries and former British colonies – have a formal Toshakhana department at the government level. However, each country has developed its system and procedures to handle valuable gifts. In our country, the cabinet has been responsible for keeping the record of the gifts received from countries since 1974. According to the law, if a gift is worth less than Rs30,000, the person receiving the gift is allowed to keep it for free. However, a gift worth more than Rs30,000 can be retained after paying 50 per cent of the price. Before the Toshakhana Management Act 2020, this price was only 20 per cent.

In Bangladesh, the Toshakhana was established in the presidential palace Banga Bhaban under the cabinet division in 1974, where foreign gifts received by the president, prime minister, ministers and government officials are on display. Five years ago, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena, while inaugurating the Toshakhana Museum, emphasized that all the gifts received from international countries are property of the state and need proper maintenance and protection. Under Bangladeshi law, the president and the prime minister can keep gifts of up to fifty thousand taka without payment. Rules and regulations are also applicable for ministers, speakers of assembly, members of parliament and government officials.

In India, the Toshakhana operates under the Ministry of External Affairs, in which all government officials, including the prime minister, are required to submit foreign gifts within 30 days. Under Indian laws, gifts under the value of INR5,000 can be kept by the recipient. Every three months, the Indian ministry presents the list of gifts collected in the Toshakhana available for public auction.

A few years ago, a video of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went viral where he said that as the chief minister of Gujarat, he did not receive a single gift for himself and submitted all of them to the Toshakhana for auction. According to Modi, who received the most gifts in the history of India and submitted them to the Toshakhana, the sale revenue of INR1 billion obtained from the auction was spent on educational projects for girls.

Similarly, the US constitution obliges any member of the government not to receive a personal gift from a foreign head of state without the approval of Congress. However, according to the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966, federal employees can keep a certain limit on gifts. The White House Gift Unit oversees gifts presented to the US president and the first lady.

I think that such diplomatic gifts are not presented to an individual but to the state. Although it is not possible to keep a huge number of gifts in the Toshakhana for a long period, the best use of foreign gifts should be to auction publicly for charity purposes and the money obtained should be deposited in the Bait-ul-Mal, which strives hard for the welfare of the marginalized people across the country.

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani