Kiran Bedi's Air Billing Controversy

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Indian Express reported news with evidence that Dr Kiran Bedi charged her hosts full fare on air travels which were also discounted tickets. On the other hand, Bedi claimed that this was not for her "personal gain" rather the excess funds were transferred to her NGO for social welfare activities.

There has been a spate of controversy over this issue, some people supporting her while others criticising her actions as corrupt practices. The Congress spokesman considered it as a serious charge and asked her to come out clean and then raise the issue of corruption. This episode is forcing the government to reconsider on the concessions given to gallantry award winners so that the concessions are not misused. Whatever are the arguments put forward on this issue, there appears to be a case of misconduct and ethical values.

During 1977, when I was working as a lecturer in one of the universities in India, a faculty member from the university was kicked out for showing similar financial misconduct. He traveled in second class by train but claimed first class fare from the university. During that time, there was rare practice for submitting tickets to the university because it was argued that ticket was collected by the TT. The Finance Officer of the university suspected his claim reimbursement amount and he secretly inquired from railways whether the faculty member had actually traveled in first class or not? If Dr Kiran Bedi would have done similar practice while serving in Government, what would have been the actions of the government?

So far as my thin knowledge is concerned, if a  public servant had been caught doing even quarter of what had been reported in Indian Express, law would have taken its course by now for raising false and inflated bills. It is immaterial here what has been the social or pious objectives for doing this.

Therefore, in my opinion there seems to be misconduct in this case. How can one generate and submit a false invoice claim for business class ticket when she has in fact traveled in economy class and that too at a discounted ticket?  In the first instance, this is tantamount to cheating both the government and the host organizations which invited her for seminars. 

From an accounting perspective, there is a lack of faithful representation of this transaction which is the core qualitative criteria in accounting for recording transactions in the books.  She should have asked the host organizations to pay her economy class fare and the rest amount as out of pocket expense or fees. However, I presume that her intentions were honest; still there is an ethical issue in this transaction. Her and her CA's argument that the amount is saved for NGO's social activities may not be easily digested. Under the garb of creating NGOs, crore of rupees are collected which may be subjected to misuse even if accounts are prepared and audit of these accounts are done.  Professional accountants are known for doing adjustments at the behest of the management. 

It is also reported that Kejriwal's NGO has collected more than Rs 2 crore as donations and contributions from the public. And one may also raise a question whether people who got education from highly reputed institutions, is their job in this country to beg money from the public and run their own affairs by establishing NGOs? All these NGOs should be subjected to public audit and investigations.

A few also argue that  many private and even government organizations offer schemes of meeting the incidental expenses against actual bills or a lump sum if the person travelling makes his/her own arrangements. These organizations do not ask for details. What is wrong in Kiran Bedi’s claiming expenses for helping the poor?

However, in many interviews, Dr Kiran Bedi used these terms "corrupt way" (government way) "honest way" (her and team Anna's way). If they follow "honest way", this honesty should be reflected in all actions and activities. As she is considered a role model for others, she should deal with such issues and activities very meticulously and carefully. Being a seasoned senior academician, I always say to my students and friends: "when a child is born, he/she learns how to speak, but throughout his/her life, he/she learns what to speak? When one speaks too much, there is bound to be many mistakes one is likely to make. 

Media has hyped this issue too much in order to damage Dr Kiran Bedi's image because she is associated with Team Anna and this team has received a few setbacks recently. It is very much true that the Indian electronic media always look for hyping even a trivial issue in order to increase their TRP. This is very unfortunate and there is a need to regulate them. Their argument is that their job is to report and show "truth" and this is the core objective in journalism. They talk in theory "Value-Based Journalism" but they always hype the issues and news.

A small piece of advice to Madam Kiran Bedi would be to keep low profile for the time being.


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