The issue of Planning Commission spending Rs 35 lakh on two toilets today galvanised the opposition parties into attacking the government for talking about austerity and engaging in such "wasteful" expenditure while Congress said public money should be used carefully.
"The Planning Commission says those earning above Rs 32 per day are rich. And it has gone ahead and spent Rs 35 lakh on two toilets. The Prime Minister heads the Planning Commission which is today filled with people who have only read about poverty in textbooks," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.
BJP wanted to know what happened to all the announcements made by the government to its ministers to engage in cost-cutting and austerity as the GDP growth has hit a nine-year low of 5.3%.
"Farmers are committing suicides due to debts here. Such wasteful expenditure should stop," Hussain said.
JD(U) spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari asked why so much money was spent on two "exclusive" toilets meant only for some senior officials when the government has taken a decision on not holding programmes in five-star hotels, to restrict foreign trips and advised travelling economy class.
"In between all this, we hear this news that Rs 35 lakh has been spent on two toilets which cannot be used by everybody," he said.
Congress also sought to know details of this expenditure.
"Government funds needed to be spent carefully as it is public money. As far as the question of the two toilets, we do not have information. You better ask the Planning Commission", party spokesman Rashid Alvi told reporters.
Union minister Ambika Soni said the government is all for austerity and this figure of Rs 35 lakh appears incredible.
"For us, austerity is an important issue. You have seen the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister emphasise on it.... I cannot believe such an escalated amount can be spent on just two toilets. It doesn't seem credible," Soni said, adding perhaps the expenditure was on more than renovation and involved more than two toilets.
The Planning Commission issued a statement saying these toilets are not for private use but for the public. Moreover, the money was spent not on just two toilets but a block which can be used by ten people at a time.
The plan panel has been facing flak 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.
The Commission has termed the expenditure 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 differently-abled. Each of these blocks can be simultaneously used by approximately ten people", a statement from the Commission said.