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‘Sting’ vs ‘reverse sting’

Salman Khurshid at the media conference in New Delhi on Sunday. Picture by Prem Singh

CHARGE

The Zakir Hussain trust did not hold any camp to distribute equipment among differently abled persons and siphoned off the Union government’s grant of Rs 71.5 lakh in 2009-10.

RESPONSE

Khurshid said the trust held 17 camps in districts like Allahabad, Aligarh, Bareilly, Bulandshahr, Etawah, Etah, Farrukhabad, Lucknow, Kanshiram Nagar, Meinpuri, Meerut, Rampur, Santh Ravidas Nagar, Siddharth Nagar, Shahjahanpur, Kannauj and Murradabad.

He said cycle rickshaws and equipment like hearing aids had been distributed among beneficiaries in these districts. Khurshid produced photographs of the purported camps. One photograph featured an official, J.B. Singh, whose signature was said to have been forged in an affidavit commending the work of the trust. Khurshid said the photograph had not been morphed.

CHARGE

The CAG, in its draft report, has said it did not get any documents to suggest camps were held. It said the Rs 71.5 lakh should be returned by the trust to the government with interest.

RESPONSE

Khurshid questioned the auditor’s claim that it visited the trust’s office and could not find anybody and any document on how the money was spent.

When you do not find anybody, you leave a letter, he said, adding that all the documents will, anyway, be given to the CAG. It is only a draft report now, he said.

Khurshid showed a certificate about accounts of the trust obtained from Rajesh Umashanker and Co. Chartered Accountants. It certified that Rs 77,87,065 (77.87 lakh) had been spent by the trust in 2009-10.

This amount, he said, includes a sum of Rs 71.5 lakh given as assistance by the ministry of social justice and empowerment while the remaining Rs 6,37,065 was donated by private individuals and establishments.

CHARGE

The reports submitted by the trust about equipment distributed at camps carried forged signatures of officials.

RESPONSE

An inquiry has been ordered by the Uttar Pradesh government into this matter. The inquiry will bring out the truth.

CHARGE

J.B. Singh, the Uttar Pradesh government official, had given an affidavit suggesting the trust was doing good work but later denied signing on any such affidavit. Another official of the Uttar Pradesh government has also said he could not have written a letter in favour of the trust to the ministry.

RESPONSE

Khurshid said he was not going away from these allegations. The affidavit was handed over to the trust by the Uttar Pradesh government. There should be a proper inquiry into these allegations. The minister said he would write to the Uttar Pradesh government to include the issue of “forged” affidavit and letter in the present investigation.“Evidence that the affidavit is wrong is not clear.... How would Louise know it is forged? We took it at face value.… Therefore, we have asked the UP government to include this aspect also in the probe.”

CHARGE

Aaj Tak channel had aired a news story quoting certain differently abled “beneficiaries” who told the channel that they did not get any equipment.

RESPONSE

Khurshid said this was false and he had filed a defamation case against the channel. Said he had done a “reverse” and “counter” sting by speaking to the same persons who told the channel that they did not get any equipment. Khurshid introduced one such purported beneficiary, Rangi Mishtri, from Farrukhabad who admitted that he had got a hearing aid from the trust two years ago. His version before the channel was aimed at getting new equipment, Mishtri said. It might be that the channel got some people to say something in return for something, Khurshid said.

CHARGE

Arvind Kejriwal has alleged that impartial investigation cannot be possible unless Khurshid steps down from the government.

KHURSHID

Khurshid did not respond to Kejriwal’s demand. However, the minister said he would resign if Aroon Purie, the editor- in-chief and chairman of the India Today Group, also did so. The group runs Aaj Tak and the Headlines Today channel that had broadcast a "sting" operation on the trust.

Before the media conference, Khurshid wanted journalists from Aaj Tak and Headlines Today to be kept out but relented after other journalists said it would be inappropriate.“Let there be any inquiry by any authority. It can be CAG.… Inquiry should find out who is responsible for this. But the inquiry should cover the role of (the) India Today group as well,” Khurshid said.Khurshid said others who figured in the TV programme, which he refused to accept as a “sting” operation, would also appear before the media. “Somebody, somewhere sitting in some office, which is feeding India Today, is also the person who is worried about the inquiry. Too much will come out. And what they have been doing for years, will immediately be exposed,” Khurshid said.

The India Today Group issued a statement on Sunday evening in response to Khurshid’s comments. Following are excerpts:

“Aggression is not a substitute for facts…. We don’t launch personal attacks at press conferences.

“The Aaj Tak Special Investigation Team worked on Operation Dhritrashtra for over two months. The entire investigation is based on correspondence between the department of disabled welfare of the Uttar Pradesh government and the ministry of social justice and empowerment of the central government.

“In these official letters, the Uttar Pradesh government has written to the central government and brought to their notice irregularities, malpractices and forgery in the Dr Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust. Besides this, the inspection report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has corroborated these irregularities in the funds provided by the ministry of social justice and empowerment of the central government to the Dr Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust….

“Mr Khurshid should answer the questions raised by Operation Dhritrashtra. This is not a matter of debate and opinion. Nor is it a personal attack as it is being construed to be by Mr Khurshid but is in larger public interest….

“This is an investigation based on hard and incontrovertible facts emerging out of documents of the state and central governments. India Today Group stands by the story.”

Compiled from reports by our special correspondent in Delhi and PTI