Sucheta Dalal :Misuse of Maharashtra Chief Minister's relief Fund
Sucheta Dalal

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Misuse of Maharashtra Chief Minister's relief Fund  

May 29, 2008

This is an open letter by Right To Information (RTI) activist Shailesh Gandhi of Mumbai to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. It exposes the systematic loot of money that is donated to the CM's relief fund in order to help people in distress. The utter lack of accountability of the so called Trust that governs the use of funds is formalised through an official GR -- something that would shock all law-abiding citizens. The most scandalous revelation from Shailesh Gandhi's dogged follow up using RTI is the manner in which money is apparently being extorted from sugar crushing units to be deposited in the  CM relief fund. In many instances, money has been paid out, even when the official notings say that the rules do not permit it.
Gandhi's findings show how the press is easily coopted to keep quiet about what is going on. It also shows that several successive CMs have used the fund like it is the personal largesse granted by the maharajas of yore. Well, our pampered politicians are indeed modern day maharajas.
Read Shailesh Gandhi's letter to the CM.
26 May, 2008
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra,
Mumbai 400032
Sub.: Chief Minister's Relief fund

Dear Mr. Chief Minister,

I have obtained information under Right to Information about the functioning of the CM's relief fund and discovered some disturbing facts during my inspection of the files of the fund on 22nd May 2008 at your office. I am outlining below the main objectionable actions in the working of the fund from the papers seen by me:

1. The CM's Relief Fund is a Trust, which appears to follow no process by which it can be called a Trust. Though registered as a Trust with the Charity Commissioner, it is claimed to be exempted from any of the regulations of a Trust by a GR. There is no record of any meetings of the Trustees, thus leading to the conclusion that there is no record of a board of trustees being in charge. Thus it appears to be a virtual fictitious Trust.

2. The Trust was registered with the object 'To assist people affected by natural calamities'. This is the belief of all common citizens like me, and was the only reason for setting it up. Right to Information has revealed that money has been given for mango festivals, making buildings, gazal programs, kabaddi competitions, trips abroad, and so on. A circular of GR dated 15 November, 2001 has been shown to justify these activities in which the objects of the trust have been expanded to try and cover giving of alms on virtually any count. Thus the objectives of the Trust are claimed to have been changed radically,-almost to the point of rendering its original objectives incidental,- without any meeting of the Board of Trustees!

3. It is also revealed that Commissioner of Sugar routinely issues circulars to all sugar factories that crushing licences will not be issued to them unless two rupees per tonne are deposited with the CM's Reilef fund. This is an illegal and extortionist action. The last time such an action was highlighted was in the cement scam during Shri Antulay's Chief Ministership, when the Citizens had voiced a very strong disapproval.

4. In a number of cases, the official of the Trust has made comments that giving the money will not be as per the rules of the trust; at other times there are notings that this is violative of the 25% limit imposed by Income Tax on all Trusts for expenditure not covered by its objectives. Yet money has been given as per the CM's arbitrary directive. There are notings at times that there is not enough money in the Trust, yet money has been given for purposes which are not in line with its objectives.

I am attaching a note to illustrate some of these, with copies of the papers received from your office.

I have obtained information from 1996 onwards and it covers the operation of the fund during three different Chief Ministers. I concede that the issues I have raised are related to a systematic decline of governance, and you would perhaps have been only following earlier practices. Some of these are improper, some immoral and some clearly illegal. Operating a Trust without any checks; not follwing the discipline of following its objective of providing relief for major calamities; violating rules and also the provisions of the Income tax act; using the State's machinery and powers to force sugar mills and government employees to give money to the Trust are all unworthy acts. You have personally shown the sagacity of accepting that the Chief Minister's Relief fund comes under the purview of the Right To Information Act. I request you to display the same qualities of a statesman to declare that the CM's relief fund will henceforth be used only for victims of calamities and disasters. Please also declare that the State will not issue diktats to force institutions or individuals to give money to the fund. It is quite likely that you may be given wrong advice to neglect this letter. I would be very glad to meet you to explain the reasons for you to act in a manner to retain the sanctity of the fund, and your position. As the Chief Minister of this State it is your duty to do this. This single act could become the precursor for a new journey towards better governance under your leadership.

Thanking you,
Yours truly,
shailesh gandhi
Mera Bharat Mahaan…Nahi Hai,Per Yeh Dosh Mera Hai.
Enclosed: Note giving some details in the individual cases with copies of the papers obtained during inspection at your office.

A few select cases where CM's relief fund has been misused.
The attached papers are labeled 1, 2 etc.,as per the points.
1. Rs 5 lacs given to Marathwada Sahitya Parishad 20 May, 1997- remark by secretary that proposal does not fall in the objects of the trust, but money has given many times like this before.

2. Rs 5 lacs given to Press Club of India (New Delhi)note of 7 October, 1997 says the Club informed that various Chief Minister's who addressed their seminars had given 2 to 8 lacs (and hence by implication since Maharashtra CM had been given the opportunity to address the seminar) 9 lacs should be given! A fee by the CM to speak! The notings state that this does not fit in the objects of the fund and there are not adequate funds. Yet 5 lac rupees were given on the same day. A certificate of utilization shows Rs.1.5lacs spent for constructing toilets for the Press Club.

3. Rs 50 lacs sanctioned for the construction of Shanmukhananda Hall 24 November, 1997. It shows that there vare not adequate funds and hence 10 lacs is given as first installment.

4. Rs 1 lac given on a letter by Madhav Godbole -2 may, 2003 for 'Centre for Advanced Strategic Studies'. Note mentions financial assistance cannot be approved.

5. Rs 9 lacs given to Vanrai, Pune of Shri Mohan Dharia for computers, software, fax machine, internet connection and making a progress report- 9 May, 2003. A total of 25 lacs had been given before this. Note states giving this money is not as per the rules of the CM's Relief fund.

6. Rs 25 lacs given to Rajbhavan Club- 5 August, 2003 for sport's equipment. Note states this is not in line with the objectives of the trust.

7. Rs 1 lac for Maharashtra Carrom Association- 29 November, 2003. Note states this violates the IT requirement that less than 25% can be spent for purposes other than objectives.

8. Rs 5 lacs given for Gandhi Film Foundation-19 November, 2003. Note says this money is going to be used for building corpus of the foundation, which is not permissible. The note categorically states that for such purposes the foundation should get loans commercially.

9. 5 lacs for Yuvak Biradari for purchasing Motor Vehicles- 24 November, 2003. Note says purchasing motor vehicles is not permissible under the rules of the CM's relief fund.

10. 5 lacs for Superseven Cricket Association- 15 January, 2004. Note says money cannot be given in the rules of the CM's fund.

-- Sucheta Dalal