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Rediff.com  » News » Sarkari pleasure at taxpayer's expense?

Sarkari pleasure at taxpayer's expense?

By D K Singh in New Delhi
October 17, 2006 02:27 IST
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Every time the prime minister goes abroad, it costs the exchequer Rs 40 lakh per day, on average. India paid Rs 10 lakh a day for the prime minister's Mauritius visit and over Rs 75 lakh a day when he was in Washington.

These calculations are based on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visits abroad between June 2004 and 2006. His 16 visits abroad, spread over 63 days, cost the exchequer more than Rs 25 crore. Business Standard's information is based on a Right to Information query put to the Cabinet secretariat.

Dr Singh is believed to be a reluctant traveller and his tours abroad are more spartan than those of his predecessors. More remarkable are the odysseys undertaken by his ministerial colleagues. The details of their travels in these two years give a glimpse of this.

Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal spent over 100 days abroad during this period, making 26 visits to over two dozen countries, including the US (eight times), France (twice), Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Iceland, and Mexico.

Although the Right to Information Act could not persuade his ministry to part with information about the expenses incurred, there is no doubt the most peripatetic of his ministers is Kumari Selja, minister of state (independent charge) for housing and urban poverty alleviation.

In two years as minister, she made seven visits and covered 13 countries, including the UK, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Canada. Although Selja's officials provided details of just the airfare, this amounted to over Rs 25 lakh.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar made 11 visits abroad but four of these trips were sponsored by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The expenses incurred on the remaining seven include Rs 8.46 lakh on a visit to Brazil during July 5-8 2005 and Rs 6.30 lakh on a visit to Argentina during July 28-30 2005.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel made 10 visits abroad, mostly to the UK and the US. Minister for Health and Family Welfare Anbumani Ramadoss also made 10 foreign trips, mostly to the US and Switzerland. His deputy, Minister of State Panakab Laxmi, went abroad four times.

There is no lack of justifications for these trips. One of them is that they had to submit to the rigors of living out of a suitcase in the service of India as they were participants in seminars and conferences, invited by their counterparts in other countries. The health ministry said Ramadoss' visit to China in November last year was to study "reproductive health".

Most of the ministries chose not to furnish the information about the ministers' foreign visits. The ones that did would not provide details of the expenditure, arguing that it was under the Cabinet secretariat.

Ironically, it was the Cabinet secretariat to which the application under the Right To Information Act was submitted. It, in turn, forwarded it to different ministries.

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D K Singh in New Delhi
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