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RTI Responses Show Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma 'Misused' State Funds for Political Campaigns

RTI responses show that Himanta Biswa Sarma utilised taxpayers' money for chartered planes for both official government programmes and attending weddings and party-related activities.

Image courtesy: PTI

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used state funds amounting to crores of rupees to hire helicopters and chartered planes for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigns, both within and outside the state, according to the state government's replies to Right to Information (RTI) applications filed by news portal The CrossCurrent. These also suggest a potential violation of the Election Commission's model code of conduct.

The RTI requests, filed by The CrossCurrent on August 26, 2022, further showed that Sarma utilised taxpayers' money for chartered planes not only for official government programs but also for attending weddings and party-related activities. Government expenditure on non-official work, including party-related activities and private events, is against norms.

The disclosed information contradicts the Sarma government's claim in the state Assembly in September that the funds spent on chartered planes were solely for government programmes.

The General Administration Department, initially unresponsive to the RTI, provided partial information on September 30, 2023, following a directive from the State Information Commission, The Wire reported.

The revealed information and photographic evidence suggest multiple instances where Sarma potentially violated the Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct. As per the code, ministers should not combine official visits with electioneering work, and government resources, including transport, should not be used for party interests.

The RTI responses expose at least five instances where Sarma used state-funded helicopters for campaigning, including trips to Tamulpur and Gossaigaon. The dates revealed in the RTI replies suggest using public funds for BJP campaigns outside the state, including the Delhi municipal elections and the filing of nomination papers in Tripura, according to the report in The Wire.

Furthermore, Sarma's use of state-funded chartered flights for personal events, such as weddings, raises concerns about the misuse of public funds. Notable among these events is the trip to Nagaland for the daughter of Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphu Rio's wedding, incurring a cost of Rs 14,08,562 to the Assam exchequer.

The RTI data covering the period of September 22, 2021, to January 24, 2023, indicates that Sarma used state-funded chartered planes at least seven times to attend BJP meetings, adding to the growing scrutiny surrounding the alleged misuse of public resources for political purposes.

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