The Congress in Karnataka was Monday embroiled in a controversy over the way it used over Rs 20 million collected from the people for relief operations in last year's floods that hit the northern parts of the state.
From the amount collected, the Congress paid over Rs.100,000 to advertise the party's protest rallies on inadequate relief operations by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state, bank details published by a leading Kannada daily showed.
At a press meet, called by state unit Congress president R.V. Deshpande, he strongly denied misuse of funds and justified the payment towards advertisement as it was connected with flood relief.
He also defended spending several thousands of rupees for buying T-shirts for Congress workers saying there were reports of several people posing as party workers trying to siphon off relief material during distribution to the affected people.
To stop this and to ensure only genuine Congress workers were involved in the effort, the T-shirts were given to them as sort of identification, the Congress chief asserted.
Deshpande did not see anything amiss in paying from the relief fund for the air ticket of former union minister and now state legislative council member M.V. Rajashekaran to lead a party delegation to New Delhi to seek more funds from the central government for flood relief and rehabilitation.
"I leave it to you, if you want to interpret these payments as misuse of relief fund. Yes, there can be arguments for and against the use of relief fund to pay for advertisement, air ticket and T-shirts. But to say this is misuse is your interpretation. We have not committed any wrong," he said.
Deshpande denied Rs.5 million of the fund had been diverted for repair of the party office in Bangalore.
"If we have taken any money out of the relief fund for other expenses, these amounts had been paid back to the fund. I have receipts for each and every payment made from the fund. Not a paisa has been misused," he said.
Deshpande said "this is a 'shadyantar' (conspiracy) to malign Congress image and my image".
"By leaking to the media only the bank statement and not other papers, some one has indulged in mischief. I will order an enquiry into this and take action against the guilty," he said.
Deshpande justified placing Rs.7 million of the fund in fixed deposit.
"This was done as we were told too much relief material was coming and more was not necessary now. The deposit was opened in December last year," he added.
Rajashekaran told reporters that he did not know his ticket had been paid for from the relief fund amount.
"I had told the party that I did not have money to fly to Delhi. The next day party called me and said arrangement had been and he should lead the delegation. It is for the party leaders to tell how my ticket was paid for."
Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who is away in Belgaum in north Karnataka for the state party executive committee meeting, said he would wait for details from the Congress before making any comment.
Over 170 people were killed and millions left homeless in the Oct 30-Nov 3 heavy rain and flash floods in several districts of north Karnataka.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had undertaken an aerial survey to assess the damage and sanctioned over Rs.10 billion (Rs.1,000 crore) as immediate relief.
Yeddyurappa had gone round Bangalore for three days and collected around Rs.6 billion (Rs.600 crore) from the people for relief and rehabilitation.
Congress and Janata Dal-Secular have been attacking him frequently for 'poor' rehabilitation efforts in the affected areas.