Even as the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha sought to know the truth behind conflicting reports on the visa papers of the alleged Lashkar operatives David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna refused to prejudge the issue while the Foreign Office said the Chicago Consulate was delving into its records to retrieve the papers.
Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said in the morning that Rana's visa application had been found and that the Ministry was still looking for Headley's from the mass of forms submitted to its Chicago Consulate.
Sources close to the Minister later said Mr. Tharoor had made the observation before the Chicago Consulate denied having reported that the forms were missing. The sources attributed the slight divergence in the two statements to the time difference between the United States and India.
Agencies reported a Chicago Consulate official as denying having reported loss of the visa papers. "Relevant information concerning the issuance of visa to these persons is available with the government of India," he said.
Ministry officials say that prior to the recent introduction of online visa applications, most consulates issuing a large number of visas tended to send the accumulating forms offline for storage. Under the circumstances, they say, retrieval of forms even a couple of years old can be time consuming.
Officials here said that besides the visa application papers submitted in Chicago, the Ministry would have all the disembarkation and embarkation forms filed by Headley and Rana in the past two years. The Customs Department, under the Finance Ministry, would also have the signed declarations that are detached from the disembarkation forms.
Senior Ministers and officials declined to prejudge the issue. "After I get the report, we will see how we can proceed with it. I do not prejudge anything that has appeared in the media, but certainly the government is aware of its responsibilities and we will discharge that," Mr. Krishna told journalists.
Seeks factual report
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao also declined to jump to conclusions when asked about the issue on Wednesday.
"I am aware of the report on the issue that you just raised. I want to tell you that I have sought a factual report from our Consul-General in Chicago in this regard," she said.