New Delhi: With demonetisation affecting weddings at large across the country with a Rs 2,50,000 cap on withdrawal for weddings, a former bureaucrat has questioned VVIP wedding extravaganzas.
E.A.S. Sarma, a bureaucrat who retired as a secretary to Government of India, shot letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and also the Enforcement Directorate .
He pointed out the lavish spending at several weddings, including those of daughters of Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma, Nitin Gadkari, and Karnataka politician G. Janardhana Reddy.
“I have written three letters to the Prime Minister, one to Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) and to Rahul Gandhi. I have not got any reply yet,” Sarma told IANS.
He said he had sought a probe into the source of money for Reddy’s daughter’s wedding before it took place but it was not carried out.
“There was no investigation, and after the marriage was over, a junior team went but it gave a clean chit to Reddy,” Sarma said.
A twist in the tale came when a 30-year-old driver of a Special Land Acquisition Officer (SLAO) of Bengaluru committed suicide accusing in his suicide note that the officer had helped Reddy convert old notes into new currency ahead of his daughter’s wedding.
According to Sarma, around Rs 100 crore was converted.
“They have arrested the officer who colluded with Reddy, but they should have probed it before the wedding took place,” he said.
Sarma, a 1965 batch IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, who got 26 transfers in his 35-year tenure, in his different letters pointed out at the lavish weddings, comparing them with those of common citizen.
Hundreds of commoners were compelled to cancel weddings following the note ban due to cash shortage.
“Apparently, there is one set of rules and standards for NDA ministers and another set for the common man on the street,” Sarma said in one of his letter to the Prime Minister.
“As a result of the prevailing cash crisis, many families have put off their scheduled weddings. Many other weddings have broken down. But, Gali Janardhana Reddy, Mahesh Sharma and Gadkari feel no crisis whatsoever, as they seem to have the blessings of bigwigs from both BJP and the NDA,” the letter said.
“While your ministers are indulging in such unhealthy extravagance, is it not ironic that you yourself should exhort the common man to stand in queues to uphold your grandiose mission to fight against black money?” the letter said.
In another letter to the Prime Minister, Sarma mentioned the suicide by the driver and said: ” What distresses me is that, despite my cautionary letters addressed to you, the Finance Minister, the Union Revenue Secretary, the Enforcement Director and CBI Director, all the central agencies seem to have deferred raids on Reddy’s premises till he had successfully laundered the black cash holdings and allowed the local officers to give him a “clean” chit.”
“Modiji, while the demonetisation mission launched by you is a commendable step forward, if it is established that your government is complicit in letting the money launderers off the hook, the credibility of what you have done in the name of demonetisation will certainly come under public scrutiny,” Sarma said.
Seeking a full fledged investigation, the former bureaucrat also said that if the government does not act, he will seek “judicial intervention”.
“If you do not act quickly and firmly on these letters of mine, I will be constrained to seek judicial intervention, as every citizen in this country has the right to question the basics of governance,” he said.
In his letter to Rahul Gandhi, the former bureaucrat pointed out at the presence of Congress leaders at the wedding.
Known as an honest and upright bureaucrat, Sarma, while serving in Andhra Pradesh in 1994-95, had opposed Telugu Desam Party government’s plan to set up power plants without any competitive bidding.
When he could not overrule the government, he went on leave and later applied for a central posting.
A post-graduate in nuclear physics from the Andhra University and in public administration from the Harvard University, Sarma, in 2000, quit the finance ministry over differences in the public policy issues with the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government.
Post demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes announced by the Prime Minister on November 8, limits were imposed on cash withdrawals from ATMs and banks.
At present there is a limit of Rs 2,500 for ATM withdrawals per day and Rs 24,000 for bank withdrawals per week.
For families with weddings, the withdrawal limit is Rs 2,50,000.
However, there were reports of weddings being cancelled across the country due to the cash crunch.