'No Personal Gain' on Inflated Air Tickets: Kiran Bedi
Already plagued by internal dissensions, Team Anna plunged into yet another controversy today with allegations against Kiran Bedi that she charged her hosts full fare on air tickets while availing discounts but the activist claimed there was "no personal" gain.
Allegations were levelled against Bedi, a key member of Team Anna, that she used her gallantry medal to get 75 per cent discount on Air India tickets and then submitted inflated invoices to claim full fare from the organiers who have invited her to the function.
It was also alleged that she claimed business class fare even when she was travelling in economy class.
Reacting to the allegations, Bedi told PTI, "business class travel is part of the invitation/entitlement from the event organizers/corporates I'm asked to speak at. Travelling economy is a choice despite entitlement is to ensure that savings remain with the NGO.
"(There is) no personal gain here. Sorry to disappoint detractors trying real hard to find a smoking gun. However, I accept this kind of coverage as a part of the challenges which being in public life poses," she said adding the money "saved" went to NGO India Vision Foundation run by her.
Team Anna has been in turmoil in the recent days following Hazare's flipflop over Prashant Bhushan's advocacy of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir and resignation of two prominent Core Committee members P V Rajagopal and Rajinder Singh complaining that decisions were not being taken democratically.
There was also dissention in the team regarding the move to launch an anti-Congress campaign in Hisar bypolls and upcoming Assembly elections without proper discussion in the Core Committee.
"I have nothing to hide. Whatever money came from the organisers of functions, it went to the institution," Bedi said adding she was "not a beneficiary" in this case as all the money she got went into her NGOs.
"I get a lot of money through my lectures and royalty on books. I donate it to the NGOs," she later told reporters.
She also claimed that she herself downgraded her travel and even organisers knew about it. "The person is aware that I am downgrading my travel. Organisers appreciate it. They say we appreciate your gesture that you have saved money for the Foundation."
Bedi said the institutions itself offer business class fare to her for attending their functions.
"When the invitation comes I take a decision whether I travel business class or I downgrade myself. I sometimes choose to do so and travel in economy class. The money so saved by travelling economy goes to the Foundation.
"There is no money which I withdraw. The invitation is to the Foundation, the cheque is to the Foundation, the withdrawal is from the Foundation and saved money is in the Foundation," she said.
She also said when some NGOs invite her and they cannot afford, then she travels to them using the Foundation money.
In recent weeks, sharp divisions have surfaced among Team Anna members. Some members were taken by surprise on Hazare's stand that the Core Committee will decide on the continuance in the team of Prashant Bhushan, who created a controversy by advocating plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.
Hazare has also tweaked his campaign against Congress, saying he will work with Congress across the country if the UPA government brings a strong Lokpal Bill in the Winter session of Parliament and keeps its words on other reforms.
The Gandhian has also decided to wait till the end of Winter Session to embark on a 'yatra' in Uttar Pradesh, contrary to the earlier decision of hitting the streets against Congress in the state soon after Dusshera.
Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh termed the entire episode as a "very serious allegation" and insisted that Bedi should come clean on it.
Stepping the offensive against her, party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said, "One colleague of Anna Hazare demands plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, the other says Anna is above Parliament and now the third one is found charging more money from her hosts than she actually paid on her airfare. All of them are now showing their true colours."
Taking a dig at Bedi over allegations that she charged her hosts full fare on air tickets while availing discount, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said unlike Team Anna he cannot pass "ex-parte" judgments on people.
"I don't find myself equipped or able to pronounce a judgment on anybody as quickly as is pronounced on many of us by the movement (led by Anna Hazare) in which Kiran Bedi has a very significant role...I don't find myself in a position to pass ex parte judgments," he said.
Swami Agnivesh, who was in Team Anna's campaign, said Bedi's argument is not very convincing. "I will request her to either file a report with the police or ask the CBI to probe her NGO," he said.
He said misuse of gallantry award discount by mis-stating facts was a serious issue and asked Bedi to submit herself to an independent probe.
He said investigating agencies should also probe the purpose for which her NGO's funds are being spent.
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