Kiran clears air on air tickets

New Delhi:  Former top cop and Team Anna member Kiran Bedi has rejected allegations that she over-bills companies and institutions who host her by inflating her travel expenses.

An English daily had reported that Bedi, a core member of Team Anna, charges her hosts business-class fares, but instead travels in economy class. At other times, the paper stated, Bedi avails of a discount from Air India – which she is entitled to as a Gallantry Award winner.  In both cases, the paper alleged, Kiran collects full business-class fare.

Bedi has clarified that this is not a practice for personal gain. "Business class travel is part of the invitation entitlement from the event organizers or corporates I`m asked to speak at," she said. "Travelling economy class is a choice despite entitlement only to ensure that savings remain with the NGO. No personal gain here."  She also said that often, her hosts are aware that she will fly economy despite the more expensive tickets they buy for her. "I downgrade myself sometimes," she said, adding that even her hosts tell her that it is her personal decision how she prefers to fly.

Bedi argued that the savings are deposited in the NGO she heads, India Vision Foundation.  "Sorry to disappoint detractors trying real hard to find a smoking gun. However I accept this kind of coverage as a part of the challenges which being in public life poses," she said and added that  she has explained her stand to anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare, who is currently on a "maun vrat" –  a vow of silence. Bedi said she furnished her explanation to one of Anna`s close aides over the phone.  She has also spoken to another key member of Team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal, about the controversy.

Congress leader Digvijay Singh has, meanwhile, demanded that Kiran must come clean on these allegations. "This is a very serious allegation and Kiran Bedi should come clean in this," he said.

The high-profile former cop of Delhi police Kiran Bedi has been one of the most visible members of the India Against Corruption campaign.  She is a crucial member of Anna`s core group. The team has been spearheading a nationwide movement demanding the urgent introduction of the Lokpal Bill – a new bill to combat corruption among government servants.  The bill provides for an independent ombudsman agency – the Lokpal – that would investigate charges of graft against government officials.