Saturday, October 6, 2012

PMO: No government money spent on Sonia’s foreign travel

Smita Gupta

Four days after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi publicly accused the United Progressive Alliance government of forking out a whopping Rs. 1,880 crore on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s foreign trips since 2004, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) rubbished these allegations.

Describing them as “untrue and misleading,” a statement issued by the PMO also stressed that the government had not paid for Ms. Gandhi’s medical treatment either abroad or in India. The only expense incurred on a foreign trip undertaken by Ms. Gandhi, the statement said, was when she travelled to Belgium to receive an award, and the tab was picked up by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. The amount spent? Less than Rs. 3 lakh.

Interestingly, on Friday, even as the PMO issued the statement denying Mr. Modi’s claim (without naming him), the Congress turned the heat on BJP president Nitin Gadkari, saying a party headed by a man who saw nothing wrong in pleading the case of contractors should think before making baseless allegations against political rivals.

Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi accused the BJP of maligning his party leaders in a long and oblique preamble, but chose not to refer directly to Mr. Modi’s attack on Ms. Gandhi.

Instead, he trained his guns on Mr. Gadkari and demanded an investigation into a letter the latter wrote on July 30 to Union Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal to expeditiously clear the dues of certain contractors involved in the centrally-sponsored Gosikhurd dam project in Vidarbha.

The project figures in the multi-crore scam in irrigation projects in Maharashtra, which led to Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar quiting last month as deputy chief minister till a white paper is issued on the issue.

Meanwhile, the PMO statement comes in the wake of the Central Information Commission vouching for the fact that, as per its records, the government has spent no money on Ms. Gandhi’s foreign trips. “The Prime Minister's Office would like to put on record that the Government has incurred no expenses on UPA Chairperson’s visits abroad,” reads the PMO statement, adding, “Expenses for her security contingent are borne by the Special Protection Group. During the last 8 years only one trip to Belgium undertaken at the invitation of the Belgian Government to receive a national honour was paid for by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The total cost was less than Rs. 3 lakh. It is further clarified that the Government has not borne any expenses for UPA Chairperson’s medical treatment abroad and in India.”

The POM clarification also comes after Mr. Modi was forced to apologise and amend his accusations to saying that the RTI activist who had sought details on Ms. Gandhi’s foreign travels was yet to receive a reply. Mr. Modi had then attacked the government for not revealing the details sought by the activist swiftly.

Ms. Gandhi, who addressed an election rally in Gujarat on October 3, however, chose not to respond to the charges, saying she was not concerned about the personal attacks on her. Instead, she cited CAG reports to accuse the Modi government of misusing public funds.


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