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MPs’ study tours cost exchequer Rs 25 crore in last few years

New Delhi: Over the years, members of Parliament (MPs) have enjoyed lavish stay and exotic food in five-star hotels in the name of study tours, costing crores of taxpayers’ money to the exchequer, information obtained under the Right to Information Act by dna has revealed.

In four years since 2011 alone, 46 committees spent more than Rs 25 crore of taxpayers’ money on stay in five-star private hotels including Le Royal Meridian, Chennai; Taj Vivanta, Mumbai; Lalit Grand Palace, Srinagar; Fortune Resort Bay, Port Blair; Mayfair Lagoon, Bhubaneshwar; Sterling Holidays, Munnar; Pinewood Hotel, Shillong; Taj Lands End, Mumbai among many others. When on study tours these MPs also enjoy buffet lunch, gala dinner, exotic trout fish, Ajwani paneer Tikka, Angara murg tikka and several other expensive and lavish meals, RTI reveals. This expenditure is not only avoidable but is against the guidelines regarding tours of parliamentary committees.

More than 150 Mps, cutting across party lines, had availed for these generous arrangements, including several senior leaders. Though the arrangements are made by Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha secretariat, the officials told dna that they generally push for private stay on the behest of the MPs.

This revelation is significant as the guidelines clearly say they have to stay in only government guest houses and can avail for a private hotel only in ‘exceptional’ cases. However, the exceptional cases have been made into a rule by the MPs. Parliamentary committees consist of MPs and are meant to carry out different functions like making reports, carrying our investigations, among others.

As per the guidelines framed in 2005 regarding study tours of parliamentary committees, they should not undertake a tour unless it is absolutely necessary. As for stay, “The ministries concerned/ state governments shall be requested to make arrangements in a government guest house (includes that of PSUs/ MLA hostel, circuit house etc).”

Where it is not available, arrangements should be made in government-owned hotel. If that too is not available, then arrangements should be made in a good hotel. “Arrangements shall be dignified but not ostentatious and should not leave room for adverse criticism from the media and public,” the guidelines said.

However, these very guidelines have come under serious criticism from even the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The draft CAG report, seen by dna pulls up the committees for violating the guidelines and availing lavish stay. Ashutosh Kumar Mishra, executive director of the Transparency International India, who is planning to write to the Prime Minister regarding the issue said, “This is grave misuse of public money and thus cannot be justified. Taxpayers’ money is being wasted on leisure trips for our MPs.”

To regenerate themselves, our MPs on Parliamentary standing committee on health & family welfare choose to stay at Manali resorts and Hotel Radisson when they were on the tour. During their stay at Manali resorts between June 1-3, 2013, all the committee members chose either garden view or river view rooms so that they could discuss about public health.

This committee, with three MP members, was headed by former Congress RS MP, Rasheed Masood and enjoyed exotic trout fish, gala dinner, among others worth Rs 87,066. This is revealed from the food bills obtained by dna under RTI.

The Parliamentary standing committee on personal, public grievances, law and Justice, led by Congress MP Shantaram Naik with four members spent a whopping Rs 12,34,460 on their stay and food. In January 2013, during the stay in Taj’s group’s Vivanta Hotel in Goa, they enjoyed lavish food like Ajwani Paneer tikka, Angara Murg tikka, french fries and chocolate mud pie – all out of taxpayers’ money. Interestingly, Naik is from Goa but still couldn’t help the committee officials arrange government accommodation there. From Goa, this committee went to Kochi in Kerala and stayed in lavish Holiday Inn hotels.

“Only when there is a specific requirement to visit installations or there are other compelling and related grounds, a proposal may be submitted for consideration of the speaker. Ordinarily, no permission will be granted for more than one study tour per year,” the guideline further reads. The guidelines further said that the tour should not be ordinarily for more than five days.

However, RTI reveals that several committees undertook several study tours in one year and in many instances for more than five days. If this was not enough, flouting all norms, each MP was allocated separate cars for local travel against the rule that two of them should be give a car, documents further revealed.

Take for instance, the Parliamentary standing committee on subordinate legislation. Headed by Kalraj Mishra, it went along with six members for six days in June 2011 and stayed at Taj West End (Bangalore), Zuri Kumarakom (Cochin) and Tea country (Munnar). Just three months later in September 2011 they went for another six day trip to Mumbai and Goa. Here, they stayed in Taj Mahal Palace and Intercontinental in Goa. In 2012, this committee agent made three trips in the months of February, June and November and stayed in hotels like ITC Sonar (Kolkata), Sinclair (Port Blair) and Le Meridien (Chennai), Broadway Hotel (Srinagar), The Leela (Trivandrum), Trident Hotel (Udaipur). This committee spent Rs 80 lakh on stay in these hotels in just four years.

Similarly, department related parliamentary standing committee on science & technology, environment & forest since January 2011 have made 13 trips across the country – three each in 2011 and 2012; four in 2013 and three again in 2014. Of these, only on four occasions committee curtailed its trips to less than five days. Committee, headed by T Subbarami Reddy, has five other MPs as members.

The parliamentary committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, then headed by Vilas Muttemwar and JC Diwakar Reddy, for instance, has never made a trip of less than five days in the last four years.

Detailed questionnaires were sent to all the MPs, however, none of them replied.