If you spot a group of dhoti-clad, middle-aged, potbellied, Ray-Ban flashing men at the Iguazu Falls at the Brazil-Argentina border or at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro in January, don’t be surprised; they could be MLAs from Karnataka.
According to reports, 30 MLAs will go on a ‘study tour’ to Argentina, Brazil, Peru among other places to ‘study’ the waterfalls in the Amazon forests and the sporting activities that happen there so that they can be replicated in their constituencies. The junket would cost the state around Rs7.5 lakh per MLA.
Such ‘study tours’ to exotic destinations are perhaps as old as the republic and are not unique to Karnataka. Last month, the Goa deputy CM Francis D’Souza-led a 38-member team to Europe to study solid waste management.
In 2012, the Kerala sports minister landed in the soup when he planned to enjoy the Olympics on the taxpayers’ money even when many athletes were fighting for funds. What is surprising is the alacrity with which public servants choose to go on such trips even though the public mood is against such wasteful expenditure. Even as this batch of Karnataka MLAs are planning their trip, another group is already soaking the wonders Down Under; all this at a time when 65 taluks in the state have been declared drought hit.
Congress MLA Mallikaiah V Guttedar, who heads the legislature committee on estimates, has justified the trip to South America, by saying: "Don’t you send school children on vacation….similarly MPs and MLAs are being sent through the legislature committees." Not surprisingly, MLA BC Patil shares Guttedar’s views: "Why shouldn’t we go on a junket? It’s our privilege as legislators". Such brazenness on the part of the legislators, including CM Siddaramaiah who thinks it is not a big issue, at a time when the state’s finances are in the red, is appalling.
Some state BJP leaders, perhaps after realising the public mood, have decided to not go on the tour. However the saffron party cannot claim any moral high ground because when it was in power CM Jagadish Shettar was forced to recall his legislators who were touring South America. But today thanks to the social media and the growing demand for transparency and accountability, such ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ arrangements among MLAs, across the political divide will not sell anymore.
In this age of the Internet, it is difficult to justify such expensive trips. The MLAs should rather listen to the people who have elected them and search for solution in consultations with them and experts in the field. And this time the people might be gracious enough to forgive them even if they search for such information on their iPads in the assembly, and even when a session is on.