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Gift of the grab unites Chhattisgarh MLAs

State government spends public money meant for development on refrigerators, microwave ovens, dinner sets and washing machines for its legislators. Ejaz Kaiser reports.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2013 12:12 IST
Ejaz Kaiser
Ejaz Kaiser
Hindustan Times

A state wracked by a Maoist insurgency rooted in the lack of roads, irrigation, food and other needs, has spent public money meant for development on refrigerators, microwave ovens, dinner sets and washing machines for its legislators — in violation of its own rules.

Hundreds of gifts purchased by various Chhattisgarh government departments were given to legislators from all parties, ruling BJP and opposition Congress. So, there are no protests. These details came to light when Raipur resident Sanjay Singh shared with Hindustan Times the information he received under the Right to Information Act. It isn’t clear how much money has been spent over the years. Four departments replied to RTI queries, at least five others did not.

One minister lied about the purchases made by his department (see box), most did not want to

discuss the issue, and while a few admitted there was no justification for these gifts, some insisted they were legal.

“Every official procedure was followed,” said Brijmohan Agarwal, public works department minister whose department bought 125 microwave ovens for legislators.

That isn’t true. Chattisgarh rules demand a tender if any purchase is more than R50,000. Each department spent more than that and bought them directly from local shops.

Legislators from the Congress opposition were defensive when Hindustan Times questioned them. Some said they only accepted what the government gave them.

“As a matter of principle all three pillars of democracy and the media should avoid such practices even in good faith”, said leader of the opposition Ravindra Choubey.

Party colleague TS Singdeo said: “We presumed the government might have remained accountable, been transparent and followed the rules. If the gifts have been wrongly procured then it is better that they are returned or deducted from our salaries.”

Raipur member of parliament and the BJP’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha Ramesh Bais — who did not receive a gift since he is an MP—said he expected his colleagues to “avoid accepting such gifts in the future”. He said the Lok Sabha did give gifts but there is a budget for these.

Prateek Pandey of Transparency International India, an organisation that seeks to promote ethical governance has a question: Chhattisgarh has 90 legislators, so why have 125 microwaves been bought or 110 washing machines? "If the assembly itself sows the seeds of corruption, where will they (legislators) take the state?"

(ReImagining India investigates corruption and explores initiatives aimed at reforming administration. )

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