Bhubaneswar, Aug. 22: Distinction between politics and governance blurs when it comes to the BJD.
Nine ministers of the party attended the June 12 Swabhiman rally in New Delhi to demand special-category status for the state at the cost of the state exchequer.
Of the 19 ministerial colleagues of chief minister Naveen Patnaik, 17 were present at the rally. Of these, nine termed their visit to the national capital as “official”, with three also specifically mentioning their official engagements.
The precise expenditure incurred on their trips is yet to be computed with some of them yet to submit bills, highly placed sources told The Telegraph.
Incidentally, Naveen, who addressed the gathering at Ramlila Maidan, went to Delhi a few days before on an official visit to attend the meeting of the leaders of various political parties convened by the Prime Minister to discuss issues related to Maoist violence.
An “official visit” means that the state government will bear the expenses towards airfare, lodging and local conveyance.
The ministers are provided accommodation at the posh Odisha Bhavan at Chanakyapuri in New Delhi.
This was the first occasion when so many ministers converged in the national capital. “Under normal circumstances, the Bhavan gets three to four ministers in a month,” said an official.
“It is most unfortunate that the ministers used government funds for political purposes. On one hand, BJD wants Odisha to be declared a special category state because of the acute poverty and accuses the Centre of not providing sufficient funds. However, on the other hand, the ministers loot the state exchequer by using the taxpayers’ money for their selfish ends by attending party programmes,” said former law minister and Congress leader Narasingh Mishra.
Stating that evidence suggested that a large number of BJD ministers visited Delhi to attend the party programme in the garb of official duty, Mishra told The Telegraph: “Some of these ministers did not even mention what official duties they were discharging in Delhi. All of them need to be charged with cheating and criminal misappropriation of government funds.”
He said that the BJD leaders were only “shedding crocodiles tears for the poverty-stricken people of Odisha”.
Former minister and BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra described the behaviour of the ministers as “highly illegal, unethical and inappropriate”.
“There is a thin distinction between an official and a political meeting in the state as far as ministers are concerned. But if a minister goes outside the state for a political meeting, he should not describe it as an official visit. If he does, he is entitled to reimbursement of his travel and allied expenses. I did not term my Delhi visit for the rally as official visit,” finance minister Prasanna Acharya told The Telegraph.
Official documents revealed that minister of tourism and culture and law Maheswar Mohanty visited Delhi twice from June 3 to June 5 and from June 10 to June 12. Both the trips were shown as “official” though he had not specified the exact nature of his work. Another senior minister, Damodar Rout, had also made a trip to Delhi staying there from June 10 June 14 on “official” duty.
School and mass education minister Rabi Naryan Nanda, however, has claimed that he had attended a meeting convened by the National Literacy Mission Authority. He also attended another official meeting.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kalpataru Das made two official trips to the national capital between June 2 and June 4. He was in Delhi again from June 10 to June 13.
Das told The Telegraph: “A minister is entitled to describe any of his visits as official. There is nothing wrong in it. During my Delhi tip, I met two Union ministers.”
Das, agriculture minister Debi Mishra, information minister Arun Kumar Sahoo and revenue minister Surjya Narayan Patro were entrusted with the task of mobilising people for the meeting in New Delhi.
Sahu was in Delhi from June 10 to June 15 on an “official visit”. Debi Mishra visited Delhi twice — from June 5 to June 7 and June 8 to June 13.
The tour programme of Mishra showed he had met central government officials to discuss issues related to agriculture, fisheries and animal resources department. Food supply and consumer welfare minister Pratap Keshari Deb also visited Delhi from June 9 to June 13.
Incidentally, on the day of the rally, industry minister Niranjan Pujari has claimed that he had a meeting with the chairman of SAIL.
Forest and environment minister Bijayshree Routray had also arranged a meeting with the National Tiger Conservation Authority in Delhi to discuss the fate of the wild tiger that had escaped from Nandankanan zoo. But he has not submitted any bill so far to the Parliamentary affairs department.
Besides ministers, chairpersons of various state-run corporations, who happened to be political appointees, also visited Delhi for the rally but their tour details are not immediately available.