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Punjab govt saddled with five-star hotel bills of Delhi AAP bigwigs in poll victory celebration

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann with Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal

The Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government in Punjab has come under a cloud for making the deputy commissioner, Amritsar foot a bill of Rs 14.63 lakhs spent on 'Dhanwad Punjab Yatra' organised by the party in the holy city on March 13 three days before the government took the oath of office.

Mann was sworn in as Chief Minister on March 16 at a ceremony held in Khatkar Kalan, the native village of Shaheed Bhagat Singh implying the government was legally formed on that day.

The money was spent on five-star hotel stays of AAP leaders who descended from Delhi, honouring senior leaders with gold-plated swords, decorating roads with garden fresh flowers, erecting welcome gates, arranging tents and chairs, etc.

The victory march was led by AAP convenor and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal along with CM elect Bhagwant Mann who rode a well-decorated mini-truck. AAP workers and supporters were ferried to Amritsar from all over Punjab free of cost by Punjab government buses.

While the Punjab government remains silent as to who paid for the buses engaged in bringing people to Amritsar, it has in a reply to an RTI application filed by Manik Goyal disclosed that a total cost of Rs 14.63 lakhs was incurred on the yatra. The DC Amritsar paid 19 bills from private vendors and hotels whose services were hired.

The district administration, Amritsar paid Rs. 1, 51, 851 to Taj Swarna, a five-star hotel, Rs. 4, 83, 800 for decorating roads with fresh flowers, Rs. 75,000 for preparing the welcome gate, Rs. 5, 56, 424 for arranging tents and chairs, Rs. 54, 500 paid to drummers, Rs.16, 800 for rose bouquets, Rs.18000 for purchasing phulkaris, Rs. 34000 for buying four gold-plated swords, Rs 45, 398 for putting up flex boards, Rs.17, 500 for videography, and Rs 9, 856 was paid for confectionary items.

When asked for his comment, Punjab Finance Minister Harpal Cheema gave a wishy-washy reply to this "illegal" payment by the government to fund a yatra organised by a political party. He said, "I am not aware of the facts. But I will look into it."

Though the government is silent on the question of who paid for the transportation of people by government buses from all over Punjab, it would not be surprising if the state exchequer paid yet another party bill.

It is no secret that Punjab is reeling under a debt of over Rs 3 lakh crore and the AAP government blames previous Akali and Congress governments for reckless spending. Ironically, the Mann government is behaving no differently as is evident from the money spent on the 'Dhanwad Punjab Yatra' which was indeed a party programme but the state exchequer was made to pay.