Bengal Governor seeks info on funds used for anti-CAA campaign, TMC dubs it ‘absurd’

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February 29, 2020 9:06 PM

The governor's office has sent a letter to the principal secretary, Information and Cultural Affairs, to submit a detailed response about the money spent on the campaign against the CAA.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar took exception to the spending of “crores of rupees” on advertisements in print and visual media with a tagline “No CAA, No NRC, No NPR”. (PTI)

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has demanded information from the state government on alleged misuse of public funds on an advertisement campaign against the CAA and the authorities who sanctioned it, official sources said on Saturday. The governor’s office has sent a letter to the principal secretary, Information and Cultural Affairs, to submit a detailed response about the money spent on the campaign against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), they said. In a communication to the government on February 4, the sources said, Dhankhar took exception to the spending of “crores of rupees” on advertisements in print and visual media with a tagline “No CAA, No NRC, No NPR”.

Concerns were also raised about the involvement of senior administrative and police functionaries, including the chief and home secretaries and the DGP, in the ads that appeared by the side of the chief minister, they added. Dhankhar had repeatedly cautioned the West Bengal government that funds from the state exchequer cannot be used for advertisements backing an agitation against a valid law. The Calcutta High Court had also subsequently asked the state government to suspend all such advertisements. A senior leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), who did not wish to be named, hit out at the governor for crossing his “constitutional brief”. “The governor, from the very beginning, has been trying to interfere in matters of the state government. This is completely absurd that he is seeking details (on the alleged misuse of public funds),” the TMC leader said.

The BJP, however, came out in support of Dhankhar and alleged that the state government has been misusing public funds. “The TMC government time and again alleges that it is yet to receive funds from the Centre, but misuses public money on anti-CAA advertisements. This is double standards of the TMC,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said. Later in the day, Dhankhar said he was “astonished” that he hasn’t received a reply from the state government yet. “Despite having a meeting with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and senior minister Partha Chatterjee, I am yet to get a reply from the West Bengal government,” he said.

According to the sources, such utilisation of public funds makes a plausible case for grant of sanction of prosecution by the governor. There are instances when governors have given sanction for prosecution of chief ministers for misuse of such funds.

Apart from the infamous A R Antulay case, in recent times, the then Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj in 2011 had sanctioned the prosecution of Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa by the Karnataka Lokayukta under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, for his involvement in illegal mining of iron ore in the state. The Bihar governor had granted sanction for prosecution of Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam case. The sources said it was alleged that no “live” media coverage was allowed of Dhankhar’s address to the assembly on the opening day of the budget session on February 7 because of fears that he might raise the “misuse of public funds” in his speech.

The state government was extremely unsure whether Dhankhar would read out the Cabinet-approved address or go ahead with the changes he had suggested, they said. However, maintaining the constitutional practice, the governor stuck to reading the Cabinet-approved address. Dhankhar had suggested a number of changes in the draft budget session speech. However, they were not approved by the Bengal Cabinet. “Illustratively, crores of rupees have been spent on such advertisements in the print and visual/TV media that advance the agenda of the ruling party. The theme of the advertisement is virtual tag line of the ruling dispensation in the state.

“This is impermissible and legal outrage. Such blatant misuse of public funds is bound to generate serious consequences in law for those concerned,” the governor had suggested for inclusion, documents accessed by PTI showed. Alluding to the high court’s intervention on this, Dhankar had also sought the addition that “there has already been a judicial intervention mandating a stop to this. The logical way forward needs to be expedited for this grave infraction of law and propriety so that law takes its course on fast track”. “I am considering all aspects of the advertisement and role of the officials so that lawful course may be initiated,” he had suggested for inclusion in his draft speech. The governor had also proposed to indicate in his speech the “worrisome law and order situation” in the state with numerous instances pointing towards “internal disturbances”, an expression that finds mention in Article 355 of the Constitution.

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