Ask an MLA about the junket he is about to undertake at the expense of the tax payer, you will get the most aggressive and strangest of reactions. There is a possibility of being summoned before the Privileges committee of the legislature. In other cases, you will be told, “we do not travel by business class and we get to learn a lot,” or we are not committing theft or dacoity, it is my right to go on a junket.”
The fact that the garbage disposal system in Bangalore has not seen any improvement is one primary reason why out legislators and corporators should not go on foreign jaunts. A few corporators who had gone on a foreign jaunt last year to gain knowledge about bio-methanisation plants came back to Bangalore and were not able to implement anything on the pretext that the system here is not easy when compared to those in foreign countries.
The issue of jaunts has cropped up once again with a 30 member team of Karnataka legislators planning a trip to Latin American countries to study the water falls in the Amazon forests and sporting activity at a cost of Rs 2.25 crore.
This decision has come under a lot of ridicule considering the tax payers money being wasted on such a holiday disguised as a study tour.
There are two problems surrounding this issue. Firstly all legislators cutting across party lines are united on this subject since the jaunts are not restricted to the leaders of one party alone. Every legislator in the assembly is entitled for a jaunt as per the Karnataka Legislator’s Provisions. The rule states that in the five year term of an MLA he is entitled for two foreign and two domestic trips each. The idea according to the legislature is to give the leaders a global perspective and based on their study on such trips they are supposed to implement the same in the state.
Since the year 2003 there have been several such trips that have been made. Both legislators and corporators visited various cities abroad to study various issues. While some trips were aimed at better roads and infrastructure, there were others which were concerned with garbage disposal system.
Once these legislators have returned, they have submitted a report about what they studied, but when it came to implementation, there was no result. One official who was part of several such implementation programmes tells rediff.com that the standard answer has always been that our system here is not friendly to such a change. The roads, the garbage disposal system and also the infrastructure have not improved leave alone being replicated.
While these rules allowing such trips have always been around it started being used in the year 2003 compulsorily. In fact in the year 2003, the real aggression of the legislators was seen against a man who had opposed a jaunt sanctioned by the then Chief Minister, S M Krishna. A jaunt of various foreign countries was sanctioned by the CM and 290 legislators were part of this programme. The matter was taken to the High Court which at first stayed the jaunt, but then in its final order allowed the jaunt to go through.
However the petitioner in this case, Krishna Bhat had claimed that there was drought in Karnataka and hence undertaking such a trip was a waste of money. However after his petition was dismissed, the Legislature took serious objection. Almost all legislators unanimously urged the Speaker of the House to summon Bhat before the privileges committee on the ground that his actions were breach of privilege.
Further signs of aggression was seen last year when a trip for 100 legislators was sanctioned by then Chief Minister, Jagadish Shettar. There was large scale criticism as the state was reeling under severe drought. The CM himself feeling the heat advised the legislators to cancel the trip. However the legislators were adamant and went ahead in batches undertaking trips to South America at a combined cost of Rs 8 crore.
While there have been two instances of aggression by the MLAs when they felt they were being stopped, the reactions too have been very strange. During the 2012 trip, one of the legislators, B C Patil of the Congress had stated, Are we committing dacoity or theft? It is our privilege. Why should we not go on a junket?
This year around Congress MLA N A Harris defends the trip by stating that such trips provided a good opportunity for the legislators to get to know each other. I do not feel it is wrong. We do not get to travel by business class.
(Story first published on rediff.com)