Friday, March 30, 2007 (New Delhi)

Do you remember ever asking the people you elected to help popularise Hindi in south India?

Nineteen councillors spent nearly Rs 28 lakh to travel to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ooty and Chennai to spread Hindi.

Who footed the bill? Taxpayers did.

Another tour for 11 MCD councillors, officially described as a trip "to collect some information", cost Rs 19 lakh. The destination was exotic Port Blair.

Councillors also like to spend their time and the taxpayers' money helping the people of Kodai Kanal. Rs 18 lakh was spent for 18 councillors to travel to the hill station.

And lest the people of Mysore and Bangalore feel left out, councillors travelled there as well.

Right to information

These are the shocking discoveries made by Subodh Jain, a freelance journalist who used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to find out what councillors have been doing in the last five years.

He discovered that Rs 1 crore had been spent on these junkets.

"Absolutely, no records have been provided to me about the outcome of such useless tours. There are no records of any tour reports," said Jain.

On record, Hauz Khas representative Aarti Mehra was one of the councillors who toured South India to promote Hindi.

"I don't remember any such tour. All our tours are sanctioned by the mayor," she said.

NDTV tried getting in touch with other councillors whose names are on the list. But most of them refused to speak to us, describing this as a trivial issue.

Senior politicians are forced to acknowledge that more accountability is desperately required.

"It is indeed shameful if people have gone to promote Hindi to such obscure places," said Dr Harshvardhan, President, Delhi BJP.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi's budget for this year is Rs 2,500 crore - money that's meant to be spent on improving Delhi and providing better infrastructure.

Clearly, the councillors who spend that money think they deserve a large piece of the pie.