It was for the cause: Bedi on inflated reimbursements

October 20th, 2011 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare New Delhi, Oct 20 (IANS) Team Anna found itself in another controversy Thursday with its key member Kiran Bedi defending herself against allegations that she inflated travel bills when invited by NGOs and other institutions for seminars or meetings.

Social activist Swami Agnivesh attacked Bedi over the allegatons while her associate Arvind Kejriwal also sought to put the onus of ending controversy on the former police officer.

The controversy surrounding Bedi added to the troubles of Team Anna, which has been dogged by divergence of views among some of its members in the past few days.

Defending her actions, Bedi stated that organisations that invited her “voluntarily” paid her for business class tickets but she travelled economy and the money saved went to her NGO India Vision Foundation.

Her response came after a news report that she charges inflated travel expenses from NGOs and other institutions that invite her for seminars or meetings.

The Indian Express also claimed to be in possession of bills, invoices and copies of cheques, which show that Bedi, who is entitled to a rebate on Air India tickets as a gallantry award winner, pays discounted fares but charges her host institutions the full fare.

Bedi said it was all for a cause.

“The organisations voluntarily pay me for business class tickets but I duly inform them and save money for travels, which are for good causes, but cannot provide remuneration,” she told reporters. “There is no personal gain.”

Stating that it was “saving for a cause”, Bedi added: “I make a choice to save money so that it can be used for a good cause by not travelling in business class.”

She also tweeted: “Its very interesting to see how saving for causes by choosing to travel economy makes headline in a newspaper!”

The Congress was unimpressed and said Bedi, one of the most vocal members of Team Anna, should “come clean” before she speaks about corruption.

“This is a very serious allegation and Kiran Bedi should come clean,” Digvijay Singh told journalists.

Said Law Minister Salman Khurshid: “I have read the news but I think she (Kiran Bedi) herself will have something to say. I don’t want to condemn or hurt anybody.”

Congress spokesperson Raashid Alvi said: “Bedi must first prove herself clean to the people before she fights against corruption… It is very unfortunate that while, on the one hand, she fights against corruption, on the other, she should be doing all this.”

He added: “One colleague of Anna Hazare demands a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, the other says Anna is above Parliament and now the third is found charging more money from her hosts than she actually pays on her airfare. All of them are now showing their true colours.”

Kejriwal, a key member of Team Anna, said issuing fake invoices for reimbursing travel expenses was wrong and investigation could reveal whether the bills were fake or not.

“If the NGOs which called Kiranji have any problem, they can lodge an FIR,” Kejriwal told reporters.

“Giving fake bills is wrong, but whether the bills were fake or not, only a police probe can tell,” he said.

“Someone called her; whatever was reimbursed, the saving was given to the NGO; that is what we know.”

Swami Agnivesh said Bedi should stay away from public life till an inquiry clears her of allegations.

“Bedi is a former police officer and has to set some standards on conduct and probity,” Agnivesh, who was ousted from Team Anna in August for his apparent proximity to the government, told IANS.

Agnivesh alleged that by manipulating income tax accounts, Bedi had diverted public funds to accounts under her individual control, and he hoped that she would submit herself to an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Earlier, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan had courted controversy over his comment on a plebiscite in Kashmir.

Kejriwal had also got flak for saying that Anna Hazare was above parliament. Kejriwal also had a shoe hurled at him at a rally in Lucknow.

Bedi was in a controversy in August after she lampooned politicians during Hazare’s fast for a strong Lokpal bill. This led to the Rajya Sabha issuing a privilege notice against her for using derogatory words and denigrating politicians.

Two members of core committee of India Against Corruption, headed by Hazare, have resigned. Rajendra Singh and P.V. Rajagopal quit saying that the movement had taken a political turn.

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