Question of austerity haunts them


On Thursday, Kharge travelled economy class from the national capital to Bangalore. The labour minister has been staying in the modest Karnataka Bhavan unlike his colleague S M Krishna whose stay at a five-star hotel drew flak from the government.

The official residences of Kharge and Krishna are yet to be ready to be occupied. Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor had to check out of their luxury suites as the government told them to move out, on Tuesday. Ironically, only a day earlier, the government had come out with detailed guidelines regarding practice of austerity measures. Like Kharge, Parliamentary Affairs and Water Resources Minister Bansal, too, has responded to the new measures. On Thursday, Bansal decided to cancel the annual “goodwill visit” to Egypt and Greece. He was to lead a team of 10 MPs drawn from all political parties. The tour was to start on September 28 to go on till October 7. The decision, it is learnt, will save the government somewhere around Rs 1.5 crore.

Confirming the decision, Bansal said he had resorted to the cancellation of the trip in line with the UPA’s promise to cut down non-Plan expenditure of ministries by 10 per cent.

However, not all Cabinet ministers are interested in simple living. At the Thursday Cabinet meeting, some ministers are said to have questioned the government’s demand for austerity and raised queries over the new guidelines that include a ban on first class travel, conferences in five-star hotels and foreign junkets. Some ministers spoke against the rules which mandate travel only in economy class. One of them said it would be difficult for tall and elderly ministers to sit cramped in the economy class on long flight journeys.

Intervening, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was said to have told his colleagues that this was only for one year, till September 2010, and that it was left to one’s discretion. Approvals could be got if exemptions were required. He said these were only guidelines.

Gandhi family scion Rahul, speaking in Chennai on Thursday, said the political class should be austere and lead by example.

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