Mumbai: Sanction of Rs 8 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for a dance troupe’s trip to Thailand today generated heat with opposition parties slamming Devendra Fadnavis for the grant amidst a severe drought in Maharashtra even as he sought to counter the chorus of criticism. Facing attack and with Congress even calling for his resignation, Fadnavis said that the CM’s Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief, etc. and the funds extended to the dance troupe was not from under those heads.
“The fund used here is neither from drought relief nor Jalyukt Shivar,” he said. An RTI query filed by activist Anil Galgali revealed that Fadnavis approved had Rs 8 lakh for a government employees’ dance troupe to participate in a competition in Bangkok in December. The sum was transferred to Sachivalaya Gymkhana.
As a row erupted over the grant from the CM’s fund, Congress and NCP accused the government of being insensitive towards the troubles of distressed farmers amidst suicides in the agricultural community in the face of hardships. Reacting to the Opposition criticism, Fadnavis said, “To my surprise, I read in the newspaper today that relief funds for drought had been sanctioned for the troupe to perform in Bangkok.” “I would like to clarify that there are three types of CM funds — one for drought, another for Jalyukt Shivar (water conservation programme) and the third, of which 25 per cent is reserved for cultural activities. Out of that 25 per cent, we sponsor cultural activities,” Fadnavis said while addressing the Bar council of Maharashtra-Goa state lawyers’ conference.
“So, 15 of our government servants have been selected for performing in a competition in Bangkok, but somehow it has been shown that the drought relief fund has been spent instead,” he said. In Delhi, Congress leader Manish Tewari targeted Fadnavis, saying this was a “very serious” matter that called for his resignation.
“This calls for the resignation of the Chief Minister. The relief fund is administered by the chief minister directly. “If money has been misappropriated for a cause for which the money has not been collected, it is a very serious issue. The CM should resign or he opposition parties together must insist on his resignation,” Tewari said. According to the RTI reply, the troupe comprising government employees had sought financial assistance for enabling it to participate in a dance competition in Bangkok from December 26-30 as part of the 5th Cultural Olympiad of Performing Arts-2015 organised by the Global Council of Art and Culture.
Demanding Fadnavis’s resignation, Tewari said, “Money meant for relief fund or relief for a particular unforeseen situation is used for all kinds of peccadillo in Bangkok. What could be a greater travesty.” NCP, too, flayed Fadnavis for granting the aid to the dance troupe, saying, “Maharashtra is facing a severe drought and thousands of farmers are committing suicide. Thousands of applications are pending before the chief minister. People are seeking relief for chronic diseases like cancer and heart attack. He has no time to take the decision to distribute Rs 5,000-10,000 to needy people.
“Despite that he diverted this fund to Sachivalaya Gymkhana for foreign tour for their own enjoyment. This cannot be tolerated. He should apologise for his shameful act. The money should be recovered from the people who have enjoyed. If not, Fadnavis should pay from his own pocket,” said NCP leader Nawab Malik.
Coming to the defence of the Maharashtra chief minister, BJP leader Shaina NC said that claims by the opposition were “baseless”. Fadnavis’ “fight against corruption, his credibility, his accountability is being talked about all over the country”, she said as she called for complete information to be put in the public domain.
An official from CMO, meanwhile, said that the funds had been granted for government employees and not for anycommercial performance. The Gymkhana had sought aid to send a 15-member team of government employees to the 5th Cultural Olympiad of Performing Arts 2015 in Bangkok from December 26-30. The event is being organised by Global Council of Art and Culture.
In 2008, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi had revealed through RTI that public money collected between 2003 and 2005, when Congress-NCP regime was in power, went to the organisers of a kabaddi competition, a women’s football match, a ghazal contest, a Marathi actor’s fan club and a Congress MLA’s religious congregation. Registered in 1967 with the charity commissioner, the CM’s relief fund can be used for funding cultural activities, the official said even as Fadnavis came under fire over the grating of aid to the dance troupe.