A silver diamond-emerald jewellery set, a few Rado watches, multiple Mont Blanc pens, daggers, vases, carpets, paintings and ancient coins. As enthralling as all of it sounds, nobody owns any of these. These are gifts received by public servants over the last few years and were deposited in the Toshakhana or the provincial treasury.
India’s Toshakhana is a repository of articles or gifts received by ministers, diplomats and heads of armed forces while discharging their official duties, from foreign sources. According to the data available with the Ministry of External Affairs, between January 2019 and April 2022, Toshakhana received 2,036 items, that cumulatively have a value of ₹7.76 crore. A 1978 Gazette states that each gift received by public servants is assessed by the Ministry of External Affairs and a rate is assigned to it based on its worth in the Indian market. Recipients are allowed to keep items that are valued lesser than ₹5,000. If it exceeds the limit, they can retain it by paying extra.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, “Some of the expensive gifts received from the foreign dignitaries have been sent to the National Museum for appropriate display from time to time. Several important gifts have been displayed at the Official Residence of the Prime Minister and in this Ministry (MEA).” Some articles, like jewellery or items that are not likely to be required for presentation are also auctioned off by the government. These items are kept in a double-locked iron box. Gold coins or government mintage are made over to the treasury, while animals presented are sent to the nearest army service corps for early sale or handed over to zoological gardens.
In 2022, until the end of April, Toshakhana received 84 items. All of them cumulatively have a value of ₹8.04 lakh. The most expensive of these gifts is a small ring with a carved idol of Lord Ganesha that Prime Minister Narendra Modi received on April 7. This is valued at ₹81,000. This is followed by a pearl pendant set that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar received ( ₹72,000) and a pen set gift packet that Modi received ( ₹48,000).
While Jaishankar received 25 items this year that got deposited in the Toshakhana, he is followed by V Muraleedharan, Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs, who contributed nine items. Modi received seven articles in 2022.
In the last few years, the number of items that Toshakhana received has been going down. For instance, the repository received around 768 items in 2018, while it came down to 401 in 2019. In 2020, during the pandemic, it further went down to 117. It was slightly up in 2021 — 127.
Between 2019 and 2022, the most expensive item that the Toshakhana received was a silver diamond emerald jewellery set. This was received by Sushma Swaraj, when she was the External Affairs Minister, on April 3, 2019. This was valued at ₹6.70 crore.