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Updated: February 5, 2014 21:02 IST

Beni justifies gifts to journalists as investment

Omar Rashid
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Beni Prasad Verma.
PTI Beni Prasad Verma.

Addressing a press conference in Faizabad, Mr.Verma accepted that he had distributed cash and other items to journalists.

Under fire for distributing cash and gifts to journalists in the Uttar Pradesh capital, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma on Wednesday stoked up another controversy by defending himself and said he was only "investing money to get good returns." More than 1,000 members of the Steel Consumer's Council were handed out cash (around Rs 9,000) trolley bags and mobile each at its meeting in Lucknow on Monday, drawing sharp criticism from the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has demanded a high-level probe into the matter.

The beneficiaries allegedly included Congress workers from Gonda, Mr. Verma's Lok Sabha constituency, and journalists who have been made members of the Council till March 31, 2014. Around Rs.2 crore was reportedly spent. Mr. Verma said he was only distributing money from the amount earned by his ministry, which amounted to Rs. 10,000 crore, and the move was well within the guidelines.

"I have earned so I am distributing. I know where to invest money to get good returns," he said. Terming his detractors "fools," he said journalists worked for the publicity of the ministry. The Congress party came out in Mr. Verma's defence, with former UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi saying that there was nothing wrong in distributing bags at such a function. However, within party quarters the episode was viewed with skepticism. "The act was well within rules but such things are definitely harmful for the party image, especially with the elections looming at us," said a senior Congress leader.

Lucknow-based social activist Nutan Thakur filed a complaint demanding an enquiry into the matter by the Central Vigilance Commission. In a letter to CVC chairman Pradeep Kumar and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ms.Thakur alleged that the members of the Council were "arbitrarily appointed and provided luxurious gifts despite having no relation with the Steel Industry." Calling it a blatant misuse of power, solely for political reasons, she said membership of the council should also be probed.

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