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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Indian aid money 'goes missing'
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Coal mine shaft in India
Coal India produces around 85% of the country's coal
More than $3m donated to the Indian prime minister's fund for victims of the tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake have gone missing, court papers say.

The hole in the accounts came to light through a legal petition filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The man who filed the petition, Mujibur Rehman, argued that money raised for victims of disasters had been diverted or not yet deposited into the fund.

He argued that the money had instead been kept by Coal India Limited (CIL).

Mr Rehman works for the publicly-owned company. It has refused to comment on the case.

Various calamities

The petition alleges that money collected for the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the 1999 Kargil war between India and Pakistan, the Orissa cyclone, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir has gone missing.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Mr Singh's office has officially refused to comment on the case

Mr Rehman, a chief laboratory technician with a subsidiary of CIL in the state of Chhatisgarh, sought information on the use of funds donated by employees for various calamities.

An investigation by the Indian prime minister's office, at the direction of the chief information commissioner, revealed that the money was never received.

Mujibur Rehman told the BBC that he, like thousands of other employees, had their day's wages deducted for donations to the national relief fund whenever a big national calamity took place.

"We are never asked. Whenever there is a natural calamity and the prime minister asks for donations, the management and unions mutually agree that a day's wages will be deducted for the relief fund," said Mr Rehman.

He said that he had already filed about 50 applications under the two-year-old act seeking data on topics ranging from the coal company's business activities to issues concerning the state of Chhatisgarh.

'Transparency weapon'

Mr Rehman insists that his actions are intended in the "national interest".

A damaged house in Sopore north of Srinagar
Large parts of the Kashmir area were damaged in the 2005 quake

He argues that the tactic is a "weapon to bring transparency and accountability" to the workings of government departments and public companies.

Mr Rehman said that the prime minister's office had responded to his petition by saying that action should be taken against errant officials.

"But for that the government is probably waiting for a ruling from the Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah," Mr Rehman said.

He said that his campaign had resulted in him being on the receiving end of "official harassment", but has not deterred him from looking for transparency in government.

"Delays in getting my bonus and attempts to transfer me to another state have continued, but throughout I have continued to enjoy wide support from silent colleagues who are too scared openly to support me," he said.

No-one from CIL was prepared to comment on the case.

Officials in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office told the AFP news agency that they were "aware" of the story but had nothing to add.

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