The huge amount of money spent during Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in is snowballing into a major issue with Andhra Pradeshdoubting the veracity of bills raised in Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s name. Andhra Pradesh Special Chief Secretary has sought a detailed break-up of the bill and has also requested the Karnataka government to look into it as Babu ‘could not have spent so much since he spent just a few hours in the hotel’.
Ashok Babu, director, protocol of Andhra Pradesh government told Bangalore Mirror that a presidential suite was booked for the CM and a couple of rooms for the many ministers and leaders from neighbouring areas who had come to meet him. Documents sourced under RTI show that a room was booked for Babu in Taj West End costing Rs 2 lakh per night. Three other invoices were raised in Babu’s name where the room rent is Rs 15,000 per night. A total bill of Rs 8,72,485 was shown against Babu’s name.
“He stayed only for a few hours. How could he have spent close to Rs 9 lakh,” asked another Andhra bureaucrat who requested not to be named. When asked if the Andhra government was planning to write an official protest letter, the officer said: “We do not want it to become an issue between the two states. It appears to be some kind of scam played by Karnataka officials. We want it to be probed.”
Karnataka Chief Secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar said that if Andhra Pradesh requests for it in writing, he will order an inquiry. “They must have spoken to DPAR secretary. I am not aware about it,” he added. Earlier in the day, the protocol wing of the DPAR (Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms) asked for the file containing all the hotel bills.
Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said he did not want to respond as he was not aware of the issue. JD(S) national general secretary Danish Ali offered the standard ‘no comments’. Higher Education Minister GT Deve Gowda said he will check with his party people.
Most of the other leaders hosted by the Karnataka government maintained a studied silence. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s press secretary did not respond to messages or calls. Neither did Mayawati, Asaduddin Owaisi or Ashok Gehlot.
CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, however, said he was shocked to learn that the room cost Rs 64,000. “It is wrong to claim that my accommodation had cost Rs 64,000. I did not avail of any other facilities except accommodation at the hotel,” he added.
The front page story titled ‘In HDK swearing-in, Naidu ran up a bill of Rs 8.7 lakh and Kejriwal Rs 1.85 lakh’ published on Thursday spurred memes and comments on social media. One showed a picture of Kejriwal during the street protest in 2015 and commented ‘Kejriwal after drinking liquor worth Rs 80,000 in Bengaluru’ (the bills show he ran up in-room dining bill of over Rs 71,000 and beverage consumption of Rs 5,000). BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje posted a picture of BM’s front page and said that a 30-minute ceremony cost Rs 42 lakh of Karnataka taxpayers’ money. Her colleagues CT Ravi and S Suresh Kumar tweeted along the same lines.
But it was the room rents that caused the most outrage. Babu’s Rs 2-lakh room was the most talked about. And while Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Rajya Sabha member Ashok Siddharth stayed in a room in Shangri La which cost Rs 9,500 a night, his boss Mayawati was put up in a suite costing Rs 1,04,550. Kamal Hassan was provided a room in Taj West End that cost Karnataka government Rs 40,000 per night while it paid Rs 25,000 per night for Kejriwal. Most of the others were put up in rooms costing Rs 15,000 per night.
The rooms for all dignitaries were booked by JD(S) but the bills (barring alcohol and laundry) were sent to the Karnataka government for payment.