Facing flak over expenditure of Rs. 35 lakh on toilets, the Planning Commission on Wednesday termed it as routine maintenance and upgradation work and said it was "unfortunate" to call it a wasteful expenditure.
"While the amount of Rs. 30 lakh being mentioned is correct, an impression is being created that this has been spent on two toilets. This is totally false because these toilet blocks have multiple seats in addition to separate facility for the differently abled. Each of these blocks can be simultaneously used by approximately ten people," a statement from the Commission said.
The Commission came under criticism after it was reported on the basis of an RTI reply that it has spent a whopping Rs. 35 lakh for renovation of two toilets.
"It is unfortunate that what is routine maintenance and upgradation is being projected as wasteful expenditure," the Commission said.
It said because there have been instances of pilferages in the newly constructed toilets, "an access-control system was initially tried but not found feasible in practise".
The smart card based access control system had cost over Rs. 5 lakh for two toilets which were renovated at an additional cost of Rs. 30 lakh, the RTI reply has said.
The Commission said that the toilets being repaired or renovated are public toilet blocks and not private toilets for senior officials or Members.
"A common complaint over the years was the poor quality of the toilets in the building — a complaint made not just by the ministers and foreign dignitaries who visit, but also by the staff and the journalists." the statement said.
It said during renovation it was found that old plumbing and sewerage systems had deteriorated, and needed almost complete replacement and Fire control systems also had to be added, in accordance with the regulatory requirements.
When questioned on the controversy, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told reporters that expenditure of Rs. 35 lakh is not on two toilets but it is really a "major modernisation of toilet blocks in the Planning Commission which is a 50 year old building".
"When we needed to renovate it, we were told that both plumbing and pipes, not of individual toilet, but entire toilet block needed to be replaced... electricty work had to be replaced," he said.
Ahluwalia said this is part of the Planning Commission's renovation and upgradation program in which renovation of all the public toilets has to be done in two years.
On the issue of access control system in the toilets, Ahluwalia said, it was for the ladies toilets because of security issues but later it was felt that it was not right and the project was dropped.
However, in the RTI reply, the Planning Commission had said "cost of installation of Door Access Control System is Rs. 5,19,426 for two toilets. Cost of renovation of two toilets where the Door Access Control System is installed is Rs. 30,00,350".
Ahluwalia said funds spent on the project are budgeted and tendering process is done by CPWD.
He said decision are taken by the administrative department and not by him.