The Nitish Kumar government in Bihar has loosened the purse strings for his ministers. The cabinet meeting chaired by the JD(U) president on Tuesday decided that 33 ministers of his government will be given ₹23 lakh for purchase of cars and ₹40,000 for buying mobile phones. Till now, ministers were entitled to buy cars costing up to ₹12 lakh and mobile handsets up to ₹8,000.
While the white Ambassador car was the official vehicle of ministers earlier, it was replaced by 58 new Tata Indigo cars and Scorpio SUVs for the chief minister, ministers, speaker and party chief whip at cost of ₹2.50 crore in 2005. Of this, five bullet-proof Scorpio vehicles went for the CM’s use.
However, when the new acquisitions arrived in 2007, the state government again purchased 18 new air-conditioned Ambassador cars for its ministers after they complained that they were being treated like “company CEOs” than ministers and were not getting the same reverence from the masses as they got when they met them in big Ambassador cars.
The story does not end here. In July 2008, the state government again purchased 40 luxury cars for its ministers, departmental secretaries, Law Commission chairman and other officials from 16 districts. “This is complete waste of public money and is an anti-people act. Rather than showing concern for the common man who is battling the increasing prices of the essential commodities, the government looks more concerned about arranging luxury for its ministers. This is very sad,” said Congress lawmaker Premchandra Mishra. He described the government’s move to enhance the purchase limit for cars and mobile sets as sheer “merrymaking at the cost of public funds.”
The ruling JD(U), however, defended the government’s decision. “The work of public representative is a challenge given the interests of the huge population that they have to cater to. We feel that these representatives need quality support for fast and effective redressal of public grievances. The Bihar government took these decisions to improve the efficiency of ministers,” said state BJP spokesperson Nikhil Anand.
For ministers, by ministers, of ministers
The new facility for ministers comes barely a year after they got a salary hike by 33%, apart from a substantial hike in their allowances and other privileges. Under this decision, which was approved by the Nitish Kumar government, the basic salary of each lawmaker was hiked to ₹40,000 from existing ₹30,000. That apart, each lawmaker was given an advance amount of ₹15 lakh to buy a vehicle while their annual travel allowance by plane and train was hiked to ₹3 lakh from existing ₹2 lakh.
The state cabinet also hiked the legislators’ constituency allowance to ₹50,000, approved a monthly allowance of ₹10,000 for meeting stationary expenses and another ₹30,000 for keeping personal assistants. Not only that, the cabinet also made significant hike in pension of former lawmakers.
The Nitish Kumar government has also constructed swanky duplex bungalows for the sitting lawmakers in Bihar with state-of-the-art facilities at the cost of around ₹600 crores. These bungalows having facilities such as community centre, shopping centre, police outpost, laundry and landscape garden have been constructed after pulling down the old government flats available for them.
Enriching the rich?
The monetary benefits that Nitish Kumar continues to shower on his ministers and lawmakers comes despite the fact that many hail from affluent families. According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a civil society group working for electoral reforms, of the 243 members in the current Bihar Assembly, 162 have bank balance running into crores. Of the 162, 14 have assets over ₹10 crores. “Politics no longer remains a service now, it has become a profession,” said Prof DM Diwakar, a prominent political expert, adding that the present brand of politics “lacks emotions”.
Diwakar who served as the director of Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies said while the country’s economy is in a bad shape and the common man is faced with job loss, the government looks rather interested in increasing its own dose of luxury. “Kisi ko garibon ki chinta hain (none is concerned about the poor),” he rued.