Stacks of microwave ovens, airbags and briefcases lay in the Bihar assembly complex on Friday.
The state government sent the gifts to lawmakers in keeping with an “old tradition” of thanksgiving during the budget session.
And among the contributors was the state education department, which is facing criticism for not being able pay teachers’ salaries. The other donors were the animal husbandry and sugarcane departments.
The education department was the most generous. It bought microwaves of a reputed company for the members, sources said.
“An expenditure of Rs 30 lakh from the state exchequer is not a big issue. There is no need to draw a comparison with teachers’ salaries and infrastructure in schools,” education minister Ashok Choudhary said, though sources indicated that the microwaves alone cost Rs 35 lakh.
Moments ago, the Congress leader had a heated argument in the assembly with BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi over the delay in teachers’ salaries.
Teachers and staffers of Jai Prakash University have not been paid since November.
Deputy chief minister Tejashwi Prasad Yadav described the gift-distribution move as ‘customary’.
Parliamentary affairs minister Shravan Kumar said: “All departments give gifts. It is an encouragement to new members.”
A couple of days ago, the JD(U) leader said attendance was poor in the important budget session. On Friday, he had no such complaints.
In the 243-member Bihar assembly, the ruling grand alliance of the Congress, RJD and the JD(U) has 173 seats. The BJP holds 53 seats.
Two profit-making agencies of the education department --- Bihar State Textbook Publishing Corporation Limited (BSTBPCL) and the Bihar State Educational Infrastructure Corporation (BSEIC) --- paid for the gifts, sources said.
CPI’s Kedar Pandey said the sending of gifts was an old practice. “But only those departments provide for it that have surplus budget.”
The textbook-publishing agency is facing criticism for the lack of planning in book printing. It is also under scanner for investing surplus funds in 19 term-deposits.