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Kerala says CM’s chopper ride bill was to be paid from SDRF

Amid a controversy over a proposal to deduct from Ockhi cyclone relief fund the expenses borne on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s chopper ride to cyclone-hit areas, the Kerala government on Thursday clarified the money was to be paid from the SDRF and not the relief money.

Culture Minister A.K. Balan told reporters after a CPI-M meeting here that no money was to be taken from the relief fund and that the ruling party will not foot the bill of Rs 8 lakh.

“There are two type of funds — Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund, in which Ockhi relief fund is included; and the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), comprising 25 per cent state contribution and remaining from the Centre. The chopper charges of Rs 8 lakh were designated to be paid from the SDRF and not from the Ockhi relief fund, as was claimed earlier,” Balan said.

“The Chief Minister did nothing wrong. It is common practise for such expenses of the Chief Minister, and even the Prime Minister, to be met from the SDRF. That’s what happened in this case. Hence, the party will not bear the expenses,” the minister said.

Following an opposition protest, Vijayan’s office on Tuesday announced cancellation of the official order for deducting expenses on a chartered helicopter ride on December 26 from Thrissur, where he was attending a Communist Party of India-Marxist meeting, to the state capital to meet a central team that had come visiting from Delhi to study the damage caused by the cyclone on November 30.

After the meeting, Vijayan flew back to Thrissur. His government had debited the chopper ride’s expenses to the relief fund.

Vijayan’s office said on Tuesday evening that officials were not in the know of things and as soon as they came to know, the order was withdrawn.

On Wednesday, CPI-M State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had indicated the party might foot the bill, but at a party meeting on Thursday, a section of top leaders strongly resisted this.

The opposition Congress had demanded a vigilance case against Vijayan for using cyclone relief funds to pay for his chopper ride to attend the party meeting.

The Bharatiya Janata Party urged Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to see that the central funds given for Ockhi relief are monitored closely by New Delhi.

Vijayan told a party meeting on Wednesday night that a Chief Minister does not look into from where all his expenses are met and he did nothing wrong since travel expenses of the Chief Minister and other ministers are borne by the government.