In yet another indication that the downturn is truly over, the Centre has decided to ease its austerity regime on March 31. From April 1, it’s back to good times for ministers and other politicians.
Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar gave the ministers this assurance on February 26 when the Cabinet met to approve the union budget Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented in Parliament soon after, sources said.
At the meeting, it was Minister for Non Conventional Energy Farooq Abdullah who first asked for relaxation in the austerity drive. Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran seconded him. All others present, however, stayed circumspect and merely burst out laughing. But the response heartened them: Wait for a few more days till March.
The drive began in September last year when, in keeping with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s diktat and example, Mukherjee directed all ministers to travel economy. He also got External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and his junior minister Shashi Tharoor to shift out of five-star hotels, even though they said they were paying for the stay themselves.
All ministers fell in line, but not without protesting. “Travelling economy is often very impractical,” a minister who did not want to be named told HT.
Abdullah, who is tall and imposing, complained that economy class did not provide him enough leg space to sit comfortably. Maran too had cited a personal example to show how a minister travelling economy sometimes ended up costing the government more than if he went business class. Other protesting ministers included Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had ended the September meeting by saying that ministers could still travel business after taking special permission. But the cost cutting exercise since then has saved the government Rs 2,000 crore.