India's top audit authority questions foreign visits of Aam Aadmi Party ministers
The central auditing body has sent a missive to the Delhi finance, general administrative and urban development departments, seeking details of the foreign trips of bureaucrats and ministers. In photo: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Photograph: (AFP)
By Sumit Kumar Singh
The foreign visits of Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) ministers and bureaucrats are now under the glare of the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) office, which has started an audit of the expenditure on these trips.
The central auditing body has sent a missive to the Delhi finance, general administrative and urban development departments, seeking details of the foreign trips of babus and ministers. The auditing body also asked the "purpose of the visit" and "cost to the government exchequer". It has also sought explanations on how the trip was fruitful in terms of the "development" and "governance" in the city.
Sources in the Delhi secretariat told DNA: "The letter was marked to the principal secretary and secretaries of these departments." The auditing body has sought information regarding the Lieutenant Governor's approval regarding the foreign trips made by bureaucrats and ministers.
In the last 18 months, AAP ministers have made 10 foreign trips, with deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia alone making six foreign trips — one in every three months. Sisodia has incurred an expenditure of over Rs 30.73 lakh ($3.07 million) for three foreign trips.
Sources said that Sisodia had travelled to Athens, Finland and Sao Paulo. The Delhi deputy chief minister went to Sao Paulo from August 11 to August 15 in 2015, to attend a one-day conference, but spent two days in Rio de Janeiro before the conference and had taken a two-day break after the conference to visit the Igiazu falls and Argentina.
Sources said the issue of foreign trips came under public scrutiny last year after when the first dengue death was reported in the capital. That time, Sisodia was out of the country. He was in Finland from September 11 to September 17 in 2016, when Delhi witnessed the worst crisis of dengue and chikungunya cases.
Sisodia also went to Berlin to attend the German Habitat Forum, but extended his trip to visit Amsterdam and Paris as well.
Similarly, health minister Satyendra Jain made the maximum trips in a year – three -- incurring an expenditure of Rs 18 lakh ($1.8 million). Jain also accompanied Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to Rome for two days for the canonization of Mother Teresa from September 3 to September 5, 2016, at a cost of Rs 13.5 lakh ($1.35 million).
In October 2015, a 10-member delegation of AAP, including ministers Gopal Rai and Jain, visited Sweden. The vice-chairman of Delhi Dialogue Commission, Ashish Khetan, also went to Manchester in United Kingdom in March, 2016, with Jain.
Earlier, former Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung had directed the state government's General Administration Department to furnish details about foreign visits by ministers, their personal staff and other officials to carry out an inquiry.
The inquiry was conducted after Jung called back Sisodia from Finland. In fact, most of the Delhi cabinet was out of town at a time when the capital was reeling from dengue and chikungunya.
(This article first appeared in DNA)