Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma and BJP members engaged in sparring today in Rajya Sabha after he was accused of trying to bribe journalists and people from his Lok Sabha constituency by giving gifts.
Verma, however, justified it saying Rs 1.75 crore was spent on the National Steel Consumers Council (NSCC) meeting in Lucknow on February 3, which was organised to augment country's steel output.
Raising the issue, BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said the event marked the "worst use of power" and amounted to "bribery" and wanted to know whether government will institute an inquiry.
"This is misuse of power...This is nothing but bribery. Will the government institute an inquiry? Whether government will enquire into the episode," Javadekar posed during Zero Hour.
He alleged that mobile phones, gifts and cash were distributed among 1,000 persons by the Union Minister in his constituency in the event which had nothing to do with increasing steel production.
The questions Javadekar asked were whether people from steel, house building and related industries can only be appointed as members of NSCC and if it was so, how could the ministry appoint over 1,000 members in this body without having the right background.
He also asked specifically as to whether these people were extended cash and gifts worth crores in the meeting.
In his reply, Verma said Rs 1.75 crore was spent on the event in which Dalits, backwards and minorities participated and charged BJP of "having problems" whenever something was done for these sections of society.
He stressed that it was Steel Consultative Committee meeting and the persons attending were given to and fro fares and TA, DA and it would be his effort that the next Consumer Council's meet is attended by 2,000 people.
Verma underlined that the meet was part of efforts to boost India's steel capacity to 300 million tonnes (MT) by 2025.
Javadekar, however, said people who were invited and given the cash benefits had nothing to do with steel industry.
Verma had kicked up a controversy some days back by stating that there was nothing wrong in spending Rs 2-4 crore on media as he was only "investing money to get good returns" in terms of publicity.
In his written reply, Verma said the NSCC consists of the representatives of the government, producers and consumers of iron and steel, house builders and related industries.
"There is no limit on the number of consumers, who can be members of the Council," he said attaching a copy of the government notification regarding the setting up of the Steel Consumers' Council.
Regarding the expenditure, Verma said, "As per the rules outstation members invited to attend the meeting may be reimbursed AC-2 tier/First Class train fare from the nearest station of their normal place of residence to the station of the meeting."
He said local taxis charges from the railway station to the place of stay/venue of the meeting may also be reimbursed.
"...for board and lodging, each member was paid Rs 7,000 and Rs 1,000 was paid for local transport. Besides, a kit was also supplied to these members as is done in the case of conferences, seminars etc. The kit comprised a bag, report of the Joint Plant Committee, Annual Reports of SAIL and NMDC and a mobile phone," he said in the reply.