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On whose money? Meet Maharashtra’s globetrotting ministers

In post on October 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

Piqued by the frequent foreign trips of Union ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had last year issued a new directive asking ministers to avoid frequent private visits abroad. “The ministers of state governments are directed to reduce the duration of stay abroad keeping in view the need for conserving foreign exchange”, reads the cabinet secretariat’s guideline on foreign travel. But so far as the Maharashtra government is concerned, the PM’s directive seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

In just 20 months since the formation of the ruling Maharashtra government, 31 ministers, including former chief minister Ashok Chavan, speakers of both the houses, and the opposition leader went globe-trotting on 78 occasions. Ironically, while a few ministers went on official tours, many preferred unabated private tours.

DNA accessed this information through the Right to Information Act (RTI), which revealed that these ministers went on 45 private and 33 official trips between December 2009 and August 2011.

Curiously, former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who currently holds the tourism portfolio, leads the pack with nine foreign trips. What is noteworthy is that cumulatively he stayed abroad for more than two months in the 20-month period. Of these, seven trips were private visits to countries like Switzerland, UK, Spain and Dubai. None of the trips were to other developing countries like India.

This raises questions about who is sponsoring his endless tours. Bhujbal’s official annual income suggest a clear mismatch between his bank balance and lavish personal tours. According to a submission made by him to the ministry of finance for clearance, his annual honorarium is Rs6.84 lakh, and as per his affidavit filed with the Election Commission before the 2009 assembly elections, his bank balance was Rs23lakh.

Similar is the case with rural development minister Jayant Patil. He went on six foreign tours, of which four were private. In all, he spent 57 days outside the country, of which 43 were in the US. The third in the list is Dilip Walse-Patil, Speaker of the legislative assembly, who has done a lot of private trips.

On his four private and one official trip, he spent a total of 40 days outside the country, mostly in Europe, though Dubai was also his preferred destination. Even Rajesh Tope, minister for higher & technical education, went on five foreign trips. The state’s former tourism minister Vijaykumar Gavit has done his fair share of official touring too, visiting France, Switzerland, Singapore and Germany, among other countries.

The data further shows that these ministers and other MLAs altogether spent close to 600 days abroad. Further analysis of the entire data collected through RTI shows that the most favoured destination for these ministers’ private visits was the UK, followed by the USA and Dubai.

Fouzia Khan, minister of state for school education, has made four foreign trips. Her visits were entirely private, mainly to Dubai, USA and UK, where she spent 44days.

The list further includes top ministers from both the Congress and the NCP, including the likes of industries minister Narayan Rane, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, women and child development minister Varsha Gaikwad, and forest minister Patangrao Kadam.
The data indicates that these ministers have a penchant for holidaying abroad, and most make plans around May-June, while a few do so in December.

‘Exploring foreign collaboration’
“The delegation will explore the possibility of foreign collaboration for reputed engineering institutes in Maharashtra.” These are the exact words used by Rajesh Tope’s higher and technical education ministry in its submission made to the Union Finance ministry, seeking approval for a state-funded trip to Canada in October 2010.

The delegation spent nine days in Toronto to understand the “know-how of the engineering education system existing in the countries to be visited.”

Besides, on three other occasions, Tope has visited Australia, Singapore and Sri Lanka to understand the education system and “implement” the same in the state.

DNA could not access the data on total expenditure incurred during these visits.

Sweet trips
Even as Maharashtra’s sugar cooperatives are reeling under a financial crisis, state cooperation minister Harshwardhan Patil, despite his three ‘official’ visits to Brazil and the US, is yet to use the ‘Brazilian pattern’ of sugar industry in Maharashtra.
“The sugar industry in this country is known as ‘Brazil pattern.’ For study… Maharashtra has decided to send the delegation of members of state cabinet,” reads a submission made by the co-operation ministry to the ministry of finance. Since taking over as co-operation minister, Patil has been abroad for 38 days.

Holidaying in Wet & Wild Worl
DNA had reported on July 19, 2011 that Vijaykumar Gavit, minister for medical education, was holidaying in Australia’s Sea World and Wet & Wild World at taxpayers’ expense, under the guise of ‘official tour’.

Information obtained under RTI revealed that Gavit and other 20 members were to attend the 4th National Apple Custard Conference. The entire expense of the trip was borne by Maharashtra State Horticulture and Medicinal Plants Board, Pune. His stayed abroad for altogether 23 days. via http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/slideshow_on-whose-money-meet-maharashtra-s-globetrotting-ministers_1596703-1#top

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