Produces one of beneficiaries at a press meet
Hours after his return from London, a combative Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid countered point by point the charges of misuse of funds by a trust headed by him, and which works for the welfare of the physically challenged, and alleged that the so-called sting operation by the Aaj Tak television channel was motivated.
Flanked by his wife, Louise Fernandes who administers the Dr. Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, and cheered by several of his supporters the Minister said that he was ready to face any probe.
The U.P. government has already ordered an enquiry into the charges that camps for the visually handicapped were not held by the Trust on the dates mentioned on its records and the funds released by the Social Welfare Ministry for the project were diverted.
On the demand for his resignation, a visibly agitated Mr. Khurshid said that he was ready to put in his papers pending the outcome of the probe if the chief of the media group that had levelled the charges also agreed to step down.
There were several tense moments and heated exchanges at the 100-minute power-packed press conference. At one stage Mr. Khurshid got so agitated with the persistent questions from the Aaj Tak reporters he got up to wind up the conference on the plea that he was not being allowed to speak. However, he resumed his seat after his wife calmed him.
Mr. Khurshid and his wife stressed that all the camps where equipment for disabled persons were distributed had been held.
As proof, he displayed photos of the occasion and related media reports that the disabled persons had benefited. This was, however, immediately disputed by social activist Arvind Kejriwal, who said that the photos pertained to the financial year 2010-11 and not to 2009-10, the year under consideration.
Mr. Khurshid also presented one of the beneficiaries, Rangi Mistry, from his constituency, Farukhabad, whom the TV channel had earlier shown as saying that he had not received any equipment. On Sunday, Mr. Mistry said he had said so in the hope that it would help him get a replacement for the hearing aid he had received two years ago from the Trust. The Law Minister said he would also produce the two other beneficiaries that the TV Today group had shown on its channels, saying that the Trust had not given them anything.
Mr. Khurshid said he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to explain to him the functioning of the Trust, which has been under scrutiny ever since the TV channel levelled allegations of diversion of funds against it, and a draft Comptroller and Auditor General report sought some answers.
He added that the Union Social Justice Ministry would also make available the necessary documents concerning the Trust to the CAG before it made its final report.
As for dispute over the veracity of the utilisation certificates and checklists and an affidavit questioning claims about camps being held, equipment being bought and distributed, Mr. Khurshid said the Trust itself had written to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav for an enquiry. Replying to questions, he said he would be happy if an independent enquiry was ordered into the functioning of the Trust provided it covered the role of TV Today Chairman-Cum-Managing director Aroon Purie.
Mr. Khurshid was equally upset with the CAG for not looking over his boundary wall to seek a response from him. “He is my next door neighbour. He had to just look over the fence to seek my response to his queries. Officials visited the Trust premises thrice and as it happened none was there then. They could at least have left a request letter behind and we would have answered their questions.”