Assam: RTI data indicates CM allegedly spent public funds on campaigns, personal trips
RTI responses indicate that CM Himanta Biswa Sarma hired chartered planes to attend weddings, contrary to government regulations
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is facing accusations of misusing state government funds, amounting to crores of rupees, to charter flights for BJP campaigns and personal activities, including attending weddings. The information came to light through a right to information (RTI) response obtained from the Assam government, details of which were published by the Wire.
According to documents obtained by Guwahati-based news portal CrossCurrent through RTI requests filed on 26 August 2022, Sarma utilised state exchequer-funded helicopters and chartered planes for political activities both within and outside the state, violating the Election Commission's model code of conduct.
The RTI responses, initially delayed and only partially fulfilled, reveal that Sarma hired chartered planes to attend weddings, contrary to government regulations prohibiting the use of public funds for non-official purposes. Despite the Sarma government's claims in the state assembly in September 2023 that the expenditures were solely for government programmes, the obtained data points to a potential misuse of public resources.
The general administration department, initially unresponsive to the RTI application, provided partial information only after the State Information Commission intervened on 8 August 2023, following an appeal by CrossCurrent.
Notably, a separate RTI request to the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) regarding the hiring of chartered flights for the chief minister's use remains unanswered, a violation of the RTI Act 2005.
The information and photographic evidence obtained from Sarma's social media accounts indicate at least five instances in which he used Assam government-funded helicopters for BJP campaigns outside the state, including during the Delhi municipal elections in which he campaigned for the party.
Further, the RTI responses detailed instances where Sarma used public funds to attend weddings, including that of Nagaland chief minister Neiphu Rio's daughter on 11 November 2022, costing the Assam exchequer a little over Rs 14.08 lakh. Another extravagant expense of Rs 23.43 lakh was incurred on a chartered flight to attend Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Brajesh Pathak's daughter's wedding in Lucknow on 31 January 2023.
The discrepancy between the information supplied to the Assam assembly and that obtained through RTI responses raises concerns, with the bills showing the state government paid between Rs 2.25 lakh and Rs 4.15 lakh per hour for the chartered flights.
The chief minister's use of state-funded chartered planes to attend party meetings, including those outside Assam, further underscores the alleged misuse of public resources.
The total expenditure for hiring helicopters and chartered planes for the financial year 2022-23, as per the RTI responses, was about Rs 19.75 crore for the CM alone, which was presumably included in the figure of roughly Rs 34.13 crore presented to the Assam assembly. Which would mean the rest of the administration as a whole contributed Rs 15 crore-odd to the expenditure.
These revelations have sparked controversy, as they potentially imply that the CM violated both electoral and financial regulations, raising questions about transparency and accountability in the administration. The opposition and civil society are likely to intensify their demand for a thorough investigation into such alleged misuse of public funds.