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Son-in-law picks up Krishna tab

New Delhi, Sept. 11: The cost of external affairs minister S.M. Krishna’s three-month stay at the five-star hotel ITC Maurya in Delhi was borne by his son-in-law V.G. Siddhartha, who owns Café Coffee Day, sources told The Telegraph.

Raghavendra Shastri, adviser to the minister and a close aide, confirmed: “He (Krishna) stayed in his son-in-law’s room, that’s all.”

Café Coffee Day or its parent company, Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Company Ltd, of which Siddhartha is the founder-director, could not be reached for comment.

The minister had earlier said: “I have made some private arrangements. I will continue to make the same kind of private arrangements till I get my house fit enough to be occupied.”

Sources in the ministry would not comment on the “private arrangement”, saying only that Krishna did not use public money to foot the bill of Rs 12.46 lakh.

The minister shifted to a guesthouse of the Foreign Service Institute in south Delhi, which is owned by the external affairs ministry, after a displeased Congress leadership asked him and his deputy Shashi Tharoor, who was putting up at the Taj, to vacate their five-star abodes.

By getting his son-in-law’s company to pick up the tab, Krishna, known for his sartorial elegance, did not violate any government rule. He kept the entire business within the family unlike many other politicians who accept corporate hospitality in spite of obvious conflicts of interest.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who reportedly asked the two ministers to move out of the hotels, would be glad to know that Krishna used corporate discount cards to get cheaper rates, the sources, who are aware of the details of the minister’s bill, said.

One of these was the executive travel value plan the coffee chain has with the hotel. Under it, Café Coffee Day pays a Rs 2 lakh advance to the hotel and the bills are deducted from that amount. This arrangement can get one a discount of 50 per cent on the booking, the sources added.

The other discount mechanism the minister used was the Starwood Platinum card. These cards are given to the hotel’s frequent boarders — a person or a company that has spent 50 nights on the property. One of the benefits it offers is the upgrade of a room to a suite.

Krishna, who is said to be a man of taste, seems to be a simple eater. His bills suggest he mostly ate south Indian dishes such as the rasam, sambar, curd and rice.

Sources in the ministry said Krishna had no intention of prolonging his stay at the hotel. “The CPWD had found problems with the 1 Thyagaraja Marg residence (allotted to the minister) and its plumbing needs an overhaul, forcing the minister to extend the stay.”

Tharoor had earlier explained: “I’m spending my own savings.”

The Congress had found the ministers’ stay in expensive hotels unpalatable as the party was insisting on austerity in the face of a drought threat, asking legislators to give up a part of their salary.

It was reported at the time that Mukherjee took the step under Sonia Gandhi’s instructions.

Even today Mukherjee spoke on the subject, revealing that austerity measures such as economy-class air travel were meant for Congress ministers alone.

Siddhartha, who is married to Krishna’s elder daughter Malavika, was in the news in connection with the release of filmstar Rajkumar who was taken hostage by forest bandit Veerappan.

Former Karnataka director-general of police C. Dinakar wrote in a book that Veerappan was paid Rs 10 crore as ransom in two equal instalments through Siddhartha at the behest of Krishna who was then chief minister.

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