Information about Bhagwant Mann’s air travel expenses denied for ‘security’ reasons: Newsdrum

As the AAP government has been accused of overturning the RTI law on shaky ground, demand is growing to craft a policy to prevent the misuse of public treasury

Chandigarh: Recent Right to Information (RTI) requests seeking details of air travel costs from Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann have been denied on ‘security’ grounds.

The last time the state responded to RTI’s query on this matter was in April of this year, when it was revealed by the Civil Aviation Department that it had received the bills to the tune of Rs. 44.85 Lakh under the guise of hired planes to fly Mann to Gujarat between April 1-3.

During these three days, he organized with Arvind Kejriwal, national leader of the PAA and chief minister of Delhi, a road show in Ahmedabad and also participated in the public meetings of the party.

RTI’s response, filed by Bathinda-based Harmilap Singh Grewal, further revealed that Mann also traveled to neighboring Himachal Pradesh on April 6, where, according to media reports, he organized a tour with Kejriwal in Mandy.

“For this visit, he used a helicopter belonging to the Punjab government. But the expenses incurred during the individual visit could not be determined,” the department added.

In a separate RTI filed by Bathinda resident Sanjeev Goyal, Punjab is spending nearly 8 Lakh a month just on the maintenance of the helicopter it bought for Rs 38 crore during SAD-BJP rule in 2016.

In March this year, the expenditure for the state-owned helicopter was Rs 73 Lakh, of which Rs 55 was spent between March 15 and March 19.

Mann was sworn in as chief minister on March 16.

After his visit to Gujarat and Himachal, Mann visited Himachal up to five times on June 11, July 12, August 25, August 31 and September 9.

Two different RTIs – filed by journalist Ashwani Chawla and RTI activist Manik Goyal – have requested details of Mann’s travel costs for visits to other states since he took over as chief minister in March .

Manik’s ITR was filed in June while Ashwani filed it in July. But the State’s response to these RTs last month in August said that in view of the Chief Minister’s security concerns under Section 24(4) of the RTI Act 2005, the information concerned cannot not be provided.

Manik, who has already filed an appeal with higher authorities against the response, told NewsDrum it was just a delaying tactic and denial of information.

He said most of Mann’s visits to other states were limited to the states of Himachal and Gujarat, which were strictly for election purposes.

“Why should the hard-earned money of the people of Punjab be used for AAP election activities in other states,” he added.

Harmilap Singh Grewal, a former AAP leader, also said AAP national organizer Arvind Kejriwal had an important role to play along with other activists in the enactment of the RTI Act in 2005.

“But look how things change when you get the power. His own party in Punjab is now subverting the very act he fought for,” Grewal said, adding, “How sharing details of meeting expenses related to Punjab CM elections in Himachal or Gujarat undermines his safety?

He said the purpose of these RTIs was not to compromise CM’s security but to seek transparency and accountability so that public money is used for the good cause.

AAP spokesman in Punjab Malvinder Singh Kang could not be reached for comment.

Misuse of public treasury must end: former AAP MP

Former AAP MP and senior journalist Kanwar Sandhu told NewsDrum that Mann was not the first chief minister to use state resources for party political functions.

Previous chief ministers had even worse records. For example, according to RTI information in 2017, former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his family spent over Rs 100 crore on charter flights during his 10-year tenure. Many of these thefts were made even for personal use.

Similarly, former Congress chief ministers – Captain Amarinder Singh and Charanjit Singh Channi – also wasted public money on air travel, he said.

Sandhu said that in 2015 Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the House of Representatives in Australia, had to resign after it was revealed that she had spent more than $5,000 to charter a helicopter to attend the fundraiser. party funds.

“Unfortunately, the standard of professional ethics and morality is very low in our policy. The way forward is that we must have a policy in place so that chief ministers cannot use state resources for personal visits or party functions,” Sandhu said.

He said that if a political party wants its chief minister to campaign for the party, he should fund his travel and other expenses out of his own pocket rather than putting the burden on the public purse.

He said there is no problem if the CM spends state resources to perform its official functions. But the problem begins when the purpose becomes diluted, for which it is necessary to put in place safeguards and accountability mechanisms to avoid this type of unnecessary expense.