New Delhi: Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma today came under fire from BJP in Rajya Sabha with the saffron party accusing him of “wrongdoings” in giving mobile phones, gifts and money to 1,000 people from his constituency after making them National Steel Consumers Council (NSCC) members.

Replying to a short notice question by Prakash Javadekar of BJP, Verma, however, justified his action, and said Rs 1.75 crore was spent on the meeting of the NSCC in Lucknow on February 3.

Verma claimed that the meet was part of efforts by his ministry to boost India’s steel capacity to 300 million tonnes (MT) by 2025.

Javadekar asked was it not the case that only people from steel, house building and related industries are appointed as members of NSCC and if it was so, how could the ministry appoint over 1000 members without apparently having the right background.

He had also asked specifically as to whether these people were distributed cash and gifts worth crores at the meeting.

In his reply, Verma said Rs 1.75 crore was spent on the event in which Dalits, backwards and minorities participated and accused BJP of “having problems” whenever something was done for these sections of society. Verma represents Gonda in Uttar Pradesh.

He stressed that it was a Steel Consultative Committee meeting and the persons attending were given to and fro fares and TA, DA.

Mobile phones were provided as part of a kit han ed over to the invitees and for boarding and lodging, each member was paid Rs 7,000 and Rs 1,000 for local transport, he added.

Verma also said it would be his effort to ensure that the next Consumer Council meet is attended by 2,000 people.

Javadekar alleged that people who were invited and given cash benefits had nothing to do with the steel industry.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien later expunged some remarks.

“He (Verma) has appointed 1000 people from his constituency. They have nothing to do with Steel ministry… How can you give 1000 people from one constituency such mobiles, gifts and Rs 8000…Will you institute an inquiry for these wrongdoings and appointments…The question is that will Government enquire into this episode,” Javadekar said.

In his written reply, Verma said the NSCC consists of the representatives of the government, producers and consumers of iron and steel, house builders and related industries.

“There is no limit on the number of consumers, who can be members of the Council,” he said, attaching a copy of the government notification regarding the setting up of the Steel Consumers’ Council.

Regarding the expenditure, Verma said, “As per the rules out-station members invited to attend the meeting may be reimbursed AC-2 tier/First Class train fare from the nearest station of their normal place of residence to the station of the meeting.”

He said local taxis charges from the railway station to the place of stay/venue of the meeting may also be reimbursed.

“…for board and lodging, each member was paid Rs 7,000 and Rs 1,000 was paid for local transport. Besides, a kit was also supplied to these members as is done in the case of conferences, seminars etc.

“The kit comprised a bag, report of the Joint Plant Committee, Annual Reports of SAIL and NMDC and a mobile phone,” he said in the reply.

Verma had kicked up a controversy some days back on the same issue by stating that there was nothing wrong in spending Rs 2-4 crore on media as he was only “investing money to get good returns” in terms of publicity.

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