Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis recently found himself in the eye of a storm when an RTI query revealed that his government has spent Rs 8 lakh from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund to send a government employees' dance troupe to Bangkok for a competition.
While the Opposition and the media criticised the government's 'priorities' and questioned the need to fund a dance group when Maharashtra is reeling under drought, the authorities hit back, saying their actions were completely justified and the money was used for activities that fall under its ambit of the fund.
The RTI query was filed by activist Anil Galgali. It was found that Fadnavis had sanctioned the sum that was transferred to Sachivalaya Gymkhana for the dance contest.
The CM's office issued a statement saying: "It wasn't a commercial event but was performing arts competition. The CM's Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief , Jalyukt Shivar and others. The fund used here is neither from drought relief nor Jalyukt Shivar. 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 norms followed since many years."
BJP leader Shaina NC told ANI: "Accusing Devendra ji is not right because he is the only Chief Minister who raises his voice against corruption. His transparency, accountability and credibility are talked about across the nation. To those who are talking about the RTI against him, let them put out their findings first, then we will talk, but falsely accusing him before anything can be proved is plain wrong."
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.
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.
With inputs from PTI