Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Debobrat Ghose - Madhya Pradesh serves 'royal' dinner to SC judges, forgets its drought and Vyapam stain

Madhya Pradesh, a state that almost always figures at the bottom of the country's Human Development Index table, used lakhs of rupees out of the taxpayers' pockets to provide 'royal' hospitality to the Supreme Court judges – including the Chief Justice of India (CJI) – in an event in April; by hosting a gala dinner in fine silver, and by bestowing expensive gifts upon the judges and their spouses. That's rather rich for a state already bearing the stigma of the Vyapam scam – a professional examination board scam in which impersonators were caught appearing on behalf of students for a hefty fee, all with the collusion of the officials of the examination board.

A response to a RTI query revealed that expenses worth more than a whopping Rs 8 lakh were incurred in just one evening to host a 'royal' (officially traditional) dinner of 240 VVIP guests — mostly judges and their families, including CJI TS Thakur, on 14 April in Bhopal.
The dinner was hosted by the state government on the occasion of a four-day programme — ‘Retreat of the judges of the Supreme Court’ – organised at the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal, which was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee.

A copy of the information sought under the RTI, accessed by Firstpost, shows that the principal secretary to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan issued an official note stating that, “keeping with the stature of the event, the dinner should be served in silver crockery.”
According to protocol, traditionally for any lunch or dinner hosted by the state government, the arrangements are made by the MP State Tourism Development Corporation Limited (MPSTDC). But instead, the official note mentioned that, “since such arrangement are not available with the MPSTDC, the contract should be given to a reputed private caterer from Indore, through competitive bidding.”

The response to the RTI query, made by Bhopal-based activist Ajay Dubey, shows that besides the CJI and the judges of the Supreme Court, the list of invitees (state guests) included SC registrar and additional registrar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Lokayukta of MP PP Naolekar, among other ministers and bureaucrats. As per the copies of the bills procured through the RTI, about Rs 3.37 lakh was paid for food, Rs 3.57 lakh towards catering and silver crockery, and more than Rs 1 lakh towards 46 pieces of gift items.

“We’re not questioning the dinner hosted by the MP government but the arbitrary manner in which it was done. Our democracy is based on the principle of equality, but in this case, the Supreme Court judges and other guests were treated as royalty. What is the logic behind serving a government dinner on silver crockery, when there are scams like Vyapam and a part of the state is reeling from drought. Lakhs of rupees, which is the taxpayers’ money, was spent on silver crockery and gifts,” Dubey told Firstpost.

“As per the judicial ethics, the members of judiciary are not supposed to accept gifts. I don’t think the SC judges had asked for this kind of treatment or even liked it,” added Dubey, also a member of Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog.

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