New Delhi: Series of applications filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI) have revealed that the Narendra Modi government made public sector undertakings (PSUs) organise between 550 and 575 events, costing nearly Rs 82 crores to commemorate the completion of three years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre through the ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas Sammelan’ (SSSVS).
Incidentally, “sabka saath, sabka vikas,” which loosely translates to ‘assistance for all, development for all,’ is a term which had been coined by the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, therefore, replies from various PSUs indicate that government money was spent on what was essentially a party event.
PSUs told to spend public money in 583 districts
In response to applications filed by RTI activist Neeraj Sharma, the PSUs disclosed the background of the scheme and how and why they spent public money on them. In a reply sent in May 2017, Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) stated that a meeting was convened by the minister of state in-charge of petroleum and natural gas on the issue on May 18, 2017 at his residential office, which was attended by chairman and managing directors and directors of oil PSUs like GAIL, ONGC, IOCL, OIL, BPCL, HPCL, NRL, CPCL etc.
The GAIL response also noted that “during deliberations, it was decided by the MoP&NG that all the oil PSUs would carry out various events on the subject theme in 227 districts all over the country out of the 583 districts identified for the purpose.”
As for the remaining 356 districts, it was stated that they will be “taken care of by other PSUs in the ministries of power, coal, mining, aviation, shipping, telecommunications, chemicals and fertilisers, urban development, information and broadcasting, etc.”
GAIL was advised to conduct such events in 14 districts and to “bear the expenditure”’ in respect to additional 16 districts.
The PSU’s reply also revealed that during another meeting held four days later on May 22, the joint secretary in the MoP&NG had indicated that the cost for each event would be between Rs 10-15 lakhs, except the event at Varanasi, “which may likely incur Rs 50 lakhs considering Hon’ble PM’s constituency and likely visit of Cabinet Ministers for the event”.
Idea was to showcase beneficiaries under various schemes
According to another reply submitted by National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) India Limited, during the course of the SSSVS, the PSUs were required to publicise Centre’s schemes such as PMUY, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Ujala Yojana, Jan Aushadhi Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Swachh Bharat – construction of toilets – Udan scheme, Gram Sadak Yojana, Smart Cities programme, Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao Yojana and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana.
The MoUD – in an office memorandum sent to the PSUs on May 29, 2017 – further stated that the government had decided to organise SSSVS as a mass outreach programme in various locations and centres across the country highlighting the benefits given under the flagship schemes of the Central government. The ministry had stated that during the event, “interactive sessions will be held with beneficiaries who have received benefits under the flagship schemes”.
Events organised in close association with BJP functionaries
That these events were organised in close association with the BJP has been revealed by a GAIL note sheet dated August 18, 2017, which while referring to the SSSV sammelan at Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh pointed out that “the nodal officers for conducting the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas Sammelan at Sheopur were Shri Ravi Agarwal, DGM (O&M), Malanpur and Sh. Rajinder Singh, Sr. Manager (HR).”
It further stated that “after discussions with BJP party functionaries and district authorities, the date for conducting the event at Sheopur was scheduled for 14.06.2017.” However, it had added that the event was subsequently cancelled at Sheopur.
Information was uploaded on site hosted by private individual
The RTI replies from the PSUs also revealed that all these events were coordinated by a central team and all information was uploaded on a private portal (sssvs.in) which was registered in the name of one Abhinav Jerath. Though the site has since been closed, a screenshot of it taken by Sharma reveals that the portal’s front page bore the national emblem of India along with a prominent photograph of Prime Minister Modi and also a smaller one of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. When contacted by The Wire for his comments, Jerath said he would send across his email address and would prefer a written questionnaire to answer the queries related to the site. This story will be updated once a response is received.
The RTI activist meanwhile charged that the replies of HPCL and NTPC disclosed that a lot of information about the SSSVS was uploaded and made available on the privately hosted site sssvs.in. Sharma said it was also revealed that all this money on publicity spent by the PSUs was over and above the amounts spent by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity and other ministries on the publicity of the event. “The Modi government was misusing the taxpayers’ money to get publicity for political gain,” he charged.