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Oct 03, 2012 at 12:12pm IST

Travel bill demand backfires, activists seek expenditure details from Modi

Ahmedabad: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's query on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's travel expenses seems to be getting back at him. While Modi continues to target Sonia, it has now emerged that the Gujarat Chief Minister himself may be hiding information. Activists Trupti Shah and Bharat Sinh Jhala claim Modi is withholding information on expenses incurred on his women empowerment sammelans over the past five years, as well as on his trip to Japan earlier in 2012.

Activist Trupti Shah had filed the RTI application in 2007. The government gave her information on the total expenses incurred on events in 27 districts but didn't specify how much was spent on Modi's travel alone. Trupti Shah has sent a letter to Modi saying information about his and his Ministers' travel-related expenses during 'women empowerment sammelans' had not been provided till date.

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Shah alleged she was denied the information even after repeated reminders. She said the state's General Administrative Department (GAD), in a letter dated November 1, 2007, provided the list of 27 places visited by Modi from March 10, 2007 to September 20, 2007. But regarding the travelling expenses, the letter stated "the office of the Chief Minister did not mention the travelling expenses and so the CM's travelling expenses may be considered nil."

This, the activist alleged, is "ridiculous" and "unbelievable" because Modi had travelled to most of the 27 places by helicopter. Shah then shot off a letter on November 20, 2007 seeking details about the name and agencies who bore the expenditure. When her letter didn't elicit a response from the GAD, she sent a reminder on January 18, 2008 and again on April 17, 2008 but she did not get any reply, Shah alleged.

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After failing to get the required information, Shah filed a complaint under the RTI Act before the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) of Gujarat. In the last hearing on September 26, 2012, the CIC directed the GAD to hand over the relevant information to Shah before the next hearing in October. The officer concerned said the information was not available though they have requested the CMO and other ministers to provide it, Shah said.

Activist Bharat Sinh Jhala has also questioned the expenditure on Modi's travel to Japan in 2012. "CM Modi has not given an explanation about his foreign trip expenditure. The people need to know. I do not care if he goes to Japan or China,I want to know if he is spending the people's money. How is he getting so much money for the Vivekanand Yatra? His administration department is also not revealing information. They claim to be under pressure," Jhala said.

Earlier, another RTI activist had disputed the Chief Minister's claims that Rs 1,880 crore of public money was spent on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's foreign tours. Meanwhile, defending the Congress's silence over Modi's questions on Sonia's expenses, former information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said, "We don't have laws dealing with answers to private matters and in this case medical details are sought under RTI query. Normally an RTI query has to be answered in 30 days but if details are to be sought from various departments then the plea has to be addressed in 45 days. But if Sonia Gandhi's specific details need to be inquired then she is a 3rd party and under Section 8 this is not permissible."

But former Chief Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said that while medical records are off the RTI ambit, expenses can be revealed. "It doesn't matter what the expense was for - travel, medical or for a party. If the taxpayers' money was used, citizens have a right to know," he said.

Big questions:

- Who paid for Sonia Gandhi's foreign trips?

- Were Sonia's foreign trips paid for by the government or privately?

- Why is the government not disclosing the details if Narendra Modi is wrong?

(With additional information from PTI)

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