A 16-member delegation, including two ministers, legislators and presiding officers of the Maharashtra legislature left for a 14-day study tour of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore on Sunday.
On the agenda: A visit to local parliaments and studying their laws on farm loans. The delegation, comprising state agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar, food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat and his wife, chairman and deputy chairman of the legislative council Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar and Manikrao Thakre respectively, speaker of the Assembly Haribhau Bagde and four MLAs from the state legislative council. They will visit 8 to 10 regional parliaments including that of New South Wales in Sydney; South Australia in Adelaide, the Australian parliament in Melbourne and a few in New Zealand.
The delegation is also expected to visit Singapore. Although the delegation will enjoy dinners and lunches thrown in their honour, each member will incur a cost of more than Rs6 lakh towards airfare and accommodation.
According to conservative figures, the state legislature is expected to incur the cost of more than Rs30 lakh.
Fundkar and Bapat are out on the tour when the state is struggling to handle problems such as delayed procurement of tur crop over which farmers are staging protests. In Pune, there have been agitations over the failure of the local government to lift garbage lying in the city for several days because the civic body is unable to use its dumpyard. Bapat is also guardian minister of Pune.
An official from the parliamentary affairs department said the delegation has a special session in the New South Wales parliament house on the agrarian crisis and hence the participation of the agriculture minister was necessary. “Their Farm Debt Mediation Act passed in 1994 is believably effective for farm loans. The delegation will participate in a special session of discussion on the law and its feasibility in Maharashtra,” he said.
The tour is organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
“About 50% of the cost has to be borne by members of the delegation. The presiding officers are accompanied with their personal secretaries and principal secretary of the legislature Anant Kalse, while Bapat is accompanied by his wife. The tour is part of the CPA’s activities and its state branch will bear the expenditure. We have not organised any tour since 2009 and so the CPA has adequate money accumulated in these years,” said the official from the Parliamentary Affairs department.
The CPA gets an annual budget from the state government to spend on various activities, including holding debates on various issues, conducting training of the legislators for the strengthening of the Parliamentary system, among others. The last tour held was in 2008 and it has always put on hold by the Congress-led state government since then in the wake of agrarian crisis and consecutive droughts. Bapat, however, is expected to return by May 10.
Besides three presiding officers, two ministers, Sanjay Dutt and Sharad Ranpise (both Congress), Neelam Gorhe (Shiv Sena) and Rahul Narvekar (NCP) are the legislators of the Upper House on the tour. The official said many members refused to be part of the tour because they didn’t want bear the 50% cost.
Vijay Shivtare, minister of state for parliamentary affairs department, told HT, “It is a tour of the members from the council. I do not have details, but it’s a study tour and you will get more details from Bapatsaab.”
Farm activists, however, slammed the state government. “There could be no comparison between the farmers of Australia and Maharashtra. I do not understand how their technology and laws are going to be implemented by the agriculture minister here. I would be happy if he proves it to us after coming back,” Shetkari Sanghatana leader and farm activist Vijay Jawandhia, said.