The sanction of Rs eight lakh from Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for a dance troupe’s visit to Thailand has sparked a row with the opposition questioning the BJP-led government’s “priorities” at a time when the state is reeling under severe drought.
An RTI query filed by activist Anil Galgali found that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis approved Rs 8 lakh for a government employees dance troupe to participate in a competition in Bangkok in December. He sanctioned the sum that was transferred to Sachivalaya Gymkhana for the dance contest.
However, an official of the CMO said there is no wrongdoing in disbursing of the fund.
Registered in 1967 with the charity commissioner, the CM’s relief fund can be used for funding cultural activities, the official said, amid mounting criticism of the move.
Maharashtra Congress General Secretary Sanjay Dutt said the government’s priorities are flawed. “It attaches more importance to funds for dance than funds for drought,” he said.
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NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik told PTI that the state government “which does not have funds to help cancer and heart patients, was very prompt in giving money for the dance troupe’s visit to Thailand”.
The government should recover the money and if it fails to do so, Fadnavis should pay from his pocket, he said.
The Gymkhana had sought aid to send its 15-member team of government employees to enable them to participate in a dance competition in Bangkok from December 26-30.
The 5th Cultural Olympiad of Performing Arts 2015 is being held in Bangkok 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.
“The disbursement of the fund is made at the discretion of the Chief Minister, and in accordance with the Chief Ministers directions,” said the official.
The official from CMO said the funds were granted for government employees and were not for any commercial performance. “There is no wrongdoing while disbursing the funds,” he said.
Galgali, who had sought details about the funds, claimed it “is clear violation of rules governing the CM Relief Fund at a time when the state is facing the severe brunt of drought, which has fueled a spate of suicides amongst farmers in the state”.
“Common man from all walks of life including students are chipping in their best to the CM Relief Fund so as to enable the CM and the government to provide maximum relief to the population hit by the calamity,” he said.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the CM Relief Fund Desk, in response to the RTI query, informed Galgali that the Sachivalya Gymkhana had sought assistance from the CM Relief Fund through a letter on August 25 this year to send its dance troupe to Thailand in December.
On August 27, the application was put up before Fadnavis as a special case and the assistance of Rs 8 lakh was immediately sanctioned by him. The fund was transferred to the account of the Sachivalaya Gymkhana (which is headed by the CM) on September 11, 2015.
The dance troupe is slated to participate in the competition being held at Akshara theatre in Bangkok, which is organised by private bodies like Akhil Bhartiya Sanskrutik Sangh and the Global Council of Art and Culture comprising 15 artists for which Rs 50,000 each has been sanctioned totaling Rs 7,50,000.
Another Rs 50,000 has been additionally sanctioned to cover other miscellaneous expenses during the trip taking the overall total to Rs 8 lakh.
A PIL is pending before the Mumbai High Court against the adhoc functioning of the CM Relief Fund, due to which the government had taken a policy decision to keep on hold the applications of personal nature and also of Institutions seeking assistance.
The purpose of the CM Relief Fund is to provide immediate help to those effected by disaster within the Maharashtra state or anywhere in the country. The victims or survivors of disasters such as floods, drought, accidents due to fire or any other major natural calamities are provided immediate assistance from the CM Relief Fund.
Assistance is also provided to economically backward sections among the communities in cases of medical treatment for various critical ailments, Galgali said.
Meanwhile, clarifying on the fund misuse row, a CMO official said, “this money granted has nothing to do with drought donations since that money is secured in Mukhyamantri Sahaayta Nidhi-Jalyukta Shivar, CM Relief Fund-Dushkaal Nidhi, Corporate social responsibility-CM Relief Fund and CM Earthquake Relief Fund…all these other accounts are operated but called as CM Relief Fund.
“Whatever donations are received are deposited in these concerned accounts… so there can’t be misuse of drought donation. This particular cultural and medical assistance is given from the general contributions.”
“It wasn’t a commercial event but was performing cultural/art competition. CM Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief, Jalyukt Shivar and others. The fund used here is neither from drought relief nor Jalyukt Shivar,” he said.
He said Government employees are not entitled for any other private aid for cultural activities and “this is the only way they can get the aid. This aid is as per the GR followed since years. 25 per cent funds can be spent on cultural activities. There’s no change done in it by this government.”