Just days ahead of the announcement of assembly poll results on March 11, the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand has landed itself in yet another controversy.
According to a Times of India report, an RTI reply sought by an activist who is also a BJP member has said that the Uttarakhand government had paid Indian cricket captain Virat kohli a sum of Rs 47.19 lakh in June 2015 from funds allocated for victims of the deadly 2013 Kedarnath floods for appearing in a 60-second tourism video.
At that time, Kohli was roped in as the brand ambassador for the state of Uttarakhand.
However, Bunty Sajdeh, Kohli’s agent and founder & CEO, Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment, claimed that “there has been no monetary transaction whatsoever”.
On the other hand, reacting to the allegations, Surendra Kumar, media advisor to the CM, told Times of India, “Tourism forms the backbone of the state's economy, therefore what is wrong if a prominent face is chosen to promote the state's destinations? Everything has been done in a legal way. These allegations are baseless. People know that redevelopment of Kedarnath has always been the priority of our government. BJP is on the verge of losing elections, so it is coming up with such diversionary tactics out of frustration”.
When Kumar was told about Sajdeh’s reply to the allegations, he added, “I will ask the relevant departments to check details of the payment made to Kohli. It is BJP that is alleging that Virat Kohli was paid the money through an RTI that they have obtained. If the cricketer's representative is claiming that they haven't received the amount, we will get it checked”.
Ajendra Yadav, who had filed the RTI query, said that Kohli was paid the amount ostensibly for appearing in the minute-long promotional video for Uttarakhand Tourism.
“The RTI reply shows that the amount was paid by the district disaster management authority of Rudraprayag after a clearance given by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Management Authority through an email. Why were the state disaster bodies used to pay Kohli? Also, what is the requirement of a brand ambassador for the state? What role do they play in the long run? This is nothing but sheer waste of money,” he said.
According to the report, the RTI reply stated that the RTI reply was released to Kohli through Kailash Kher’s firm Kailasha Entertainment Private Limited in June 2015.
In October 2016, BJP had targeted the Harish Rawat government for paying Rs 3.66 crore to the singer for making a tele-serial on Kedarnath, claiming that the amount was released from the disaster relief funds of Rudraprayag district.
It had also raised objections on the launch of a serial on Kedarnath at a time when the temple was about to close for winter and a lot of redevelopment work was left.