Blackmailers, rabble-rousers, third rate people doing third rate things – these are the words that Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid used to describe activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal and members of India Against Corruption.
In its exposé, the channel had alleged that the minister’s NGO used a forged letter to give it access to funds worth 71.5 lakhs. The funds were meant to help disabled residents in UP; but the channel has alleged that camps were never held to distribute equipment like mechanised tricycles and hearing aids to the target group.
Blackmailers, rabble-rousers, third rate people doing third rate things — these were the words that Khurshid used to describe activist-turned-politician Kejriwal and members of India Against Corruption. He further questioned the integrity of the India Today Group owner Aroon Purie and said tongue in cheek that the magazine may soon be dubbed ‘India Yesterday.’
The crowded press conference at his residence in the capital on Sunday soon turned into a slanging match. The minister even lost his cool after he got into an argument with correspondents of the TV channel, but later regained his composure. At one point, he even stood up to end the interaction and said he will see the media group in the court.
Khurshid produced a list of beneficiaries and a few pictures to prove that camps were indeed held to provide hearing aids and tricycles to the disabled in the state. ”I have produced documents that prove camps did exist…People have made false claims saying no camps were held,” the minister pointed out.
But even as he furnished the ‘proof,’ he admitted to the need for a probe into the ‘forged’ signature on a letter purportedly written by a UP government official. The letter had sought release of funds to his NGO. But Khurshid denied any wrongdoing by the Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust and embezzlement of funds. He said he would pursue legal action against TV news channel Aaj Tak, which first aired the allegations of financial misappropriation in the running of the trust.
Khurshid is president of the trust and his wife Louise is the project director. Referring to a “draft” Comptroller and Auditor General report, which has also pointed to irregularities in running of the trust, Khurshid said the auditor had not been given the relevant documents but would factor them in its report in the future.
“Documents were given to the ministry. Why (they) did not get to the CAG, I don’t know,” he said. Asked about the social justice and empowerment ministry writing to the trust, Khurshid said it had sought clarifications and not ordered an inquiry. Khurshid, in fact, claimed it was he and his wife who had been pressing for the inquiry.
The minister agreed that there was a letter with the forged signature of an Uttar Pradesh government official on the basis of which the ministry sanctioned lakhs to the trust. “It is true that there was a letter to the central government… people have denied signing it. We want that the letter be checked by the UP government,” Khurshid said.
Denying that Louise had met Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to get more money for the trust, the minister said she went to get an inquiry ordered. Louise, in turn, explained that 34 camps were held in 17 districts of the state and produced a utilization certificate for purchase of appliances for the disabled people.
The certificate, signed by a chartered accountant, said of the Rs.77 lakh spent on camps in 2009-2010, Rs.71.50 lakh was by way of assistance from the social justice and empowerment ministry and the rest by way of donations by private individuals and establishments.
Asked if there should be an independent inquiry, Khurshid said he has no problems but the role of Aaj Tak, which conducted a sting operation, should also figure in the probe. The minister produced a beneficiary of the camp who contradicted his earlier remarks that he had not been given a hearing aid by the trust.
Indicating that he would abide by the directive of the central leadership on his resignation, Khurshid said, “I am a party worker first.” The minister said he had no option but to file a defamation case against Aaj Tak. “I am not happy to do it. I did feel I have a good relationship with the media,” Khurshid said.
Louise on Friday filed a civil defamation suit in the Delhi High Court against the TV Today Group seeking damages of Rs.100 crore. Khurshid said more cases were going to be filed.