Siddaramaiah hands over luxury watch to assembly speaker

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Bengaluru, March 2 (IANS) High drama prevailed in the Karnataka assembly on Wednesday when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah handed over a controversial luxury watch to Speaker K. Thimmappa for preserving it as a gift to the state.

“Being a law-abiding citizen, I have paid gift tax in advance on the watch and handing it over to you (speaker) with a request to preserve it as a state asset in the cabinet hall here (secretariat),” Siddaramaiah told Thimmappa amid furore from opposition lawmakers.

The speaker, in turn, handed over the diamond-studded Hublot Swiss watch to Chief Secretary Arvind Jadav on the floor of the house to be kept in the cabinet hall at Vidhan Soudha in the city centre.

Siddaramaiah, however, did not disclose the amount he paid as gift tax on the watch, which, as per his calculation was Rs.14 lakh and not Rs.70 lakh, alleged by JD-S lawmaker and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.

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As the opposition BJP and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) members insisted on the chief minister producing a receipt for the watch his Dubai-based friend (Girish Chandra Varma) had ‘gifted’ him in July 2015, the speaker adjourned the house for the second day without a discussion on the governor’s address.

The legislature is on a month-long budget session since Monday when Governor Vajubhai R. Vala addressed the joint session of the assembly and council.

Though BJP leader Jagadish Shettar on Tuesday moved an adjournment motion of thanks to discuss the watch issue, the speaker disallowed it and advised the members to speak on the governor’s address.

“We want a CBI probe into the watch scam as it is reported to be an expensive gift to Siddaramaiah in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) as he did not include it in his income tax returns or disclose to the state Lokayuktha (ombudsman) as part of his personal assets,” Shettar said.

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The watch row broke out after Kumaraswamy alleged that Siddaramaiah was fond of possessing, wearing and sporting luxury goods like watches and rings though he claimed to be a socialist and believed in simple living.

“If Siddaramaiah claims the watch is a gift from his old friend (Verma), let him or Verma give an affidavit that it was so (gift) in good faith. Was it a quid pro quo for any favour by the chief minister?” Kumaraswamy dared him to respond.

Verma, a cardiologist, is a friend of Siddaramaiah since 1984 and is known to bring gifts to the latter on his visits to the city over three decades.

“When I admired the watch Verma was wearing during his last visit to the city, he took it off from his hand and tied it to my wrist to keep it as a personal gift. I wore it till November and kept away as it is bit heavy,” Siddaramaiah recalled.

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Questioning the “double standard” of the government, Shettar said the state government had appealed in the Supreme Court against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa considering her undeclared gifts as illegal wealth in the disproportionate assets’ case and questioned why no similar yardstick was being followed against Siddaramaiah.

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