Opposition BJP and the Congress on Friday criticised the Odisha government for its clean chit to state Tourism Minister J P Panigrahi, who allegedly took two female friends along during his official trip to Hyderabad last month.
Demanding the dismissal of the minister for alleged misuse of his position and public money, senior BJP leader B C Sethi said he had evidence to challenge the exoneration. "The government has given a clean chit to the tourism minister even when there is evidence against him. We were not given an opportunity to challenge the government's claim in the Assembly yesterday," the BJP's deputy leader in the House told reporters here.
The government adjourned the Assembly sine die to avoid a confrontation on the matter with the opposition parties, Sethi claimed.
"We have evidence to show that the tourism department had booked flight tickets and hotel rooms for the two women accompanying the minister," he added. State Congress spokesperson S P Nayak said the government must reveal the expenditure details of Panigrahi's Hyderabad trip. "As per reports, Rs 49,989 was paid to book flight tickets for the minister and his two female friends. Let the government reveal the details of his travel expenditure," Nayak told reporters.
The ruling BJD, however, defended the tourism minister, saying he was not answerable to the opposition. "The minister need not take permission from the opposition parties before taking his friends out on a trip," said government chief whip Pramila Mallick. She, however, did not clarify if Panigrahi took the two female friends with him to Hyderabad. The Odisha Assembly had on Thursday witnessed noisy scenes and frequent adjournments as the opposition Congress demanded the resignation of Panigrahi over the matter.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister B K Arukha, while making a statement in the House, said no money was spent from the state's exchequer for his friends. "There has been no expenditure from the state exchequer for others," Arukha said. Panigrahi also asserted that he did not violate any law during his trip. "Let me clarify that not a single pie has been spent from the state exchequer..." the minister had told reporters.