Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma has kicked up another controversy by stating that nothing was wrong in spending Rs two to four crores on media as he was only "investing money to get good returns" in terms of publicity.
Contending that his Steel Ministry has earned Rs 10,000 crore, the minister, facing allegations of giving cash and gifts to journalists, said, "Spending Rs one crore on media is not a big deal.
"If you have earned Rs.10,000 crore, what is wrong in spending Rs two to four crores on media for our publicity. If publicity will not happen, who will know us".
Lashing out at the ruling Samajwadi government in Uttar Pradesh, he said those criticising him for spending money on media, "which is the fourth pillar in our democracy", are "fools".
More than 1,000 members of the Steel Consumers' Council besides journalists were given suitcases and mobile each at its meeting held in Lucknow on Monday.
The beneficiaries included Congress workers from Verma's home district Barabanki, his constituency Gonda and local journalists who have been made members of the Council, sources said.
"I am a trader, I know how to invest money to get good returns. If I give one paisa, I know how to get back four paise," an unapologetic Verma said.
SP and BJP had criticised the minister for making Congress activists and journalists members of the Council and allegedly distributing cash and gifts to them at its meeting.
Condemning the act, BJP chief spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak had demanded a high-level probe into the matter.
Samajwadi Party leader Om Prakash Singh said it was unfortunate that a central minister was involved in such an act. "If he (Verma) thinks he could win hearts of people by distributing money and gifts, he is wrong," Singh had said.
UP Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi said there was nothing wrong in bags being distributed at such a function.
"What is objectionable about this? she asked.
The minister had earlier kicked up a controversy when he took on the Supreme Court for its directions on a whole gamut of issues, saying it is better for the industry to invite a judge of the apex court at a function than a minister.
Verma had also drawn the ire of SP when he alleged that Mulayam Singh Yadav has "terrorist links".