After gifts to MLAs kick up row, Nitish to nix practice
With freebies to Bihar legislators from the state government snowballing into a major row, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday decided to do away with the long-standing practice from next year.
The Chief Minister’s decision came on a day when two top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders returned the gifts given to them by the Education Department amid indications that others may follow suit.
“I have never been in favour of distribution of freebies to legislators nor have I ever accepted these during my long legislative career,” official sources said quoting Kumar, who spoke to reporters informally in his Assembly chamber.
“From next year, no gifts will be given to the legislators,” he said, adding the move by some BJP legislators to return the gifts has “reinforced” his stand on the issue.
Kumar’s announcement came hours after two senior BJP leaders, including Sushil Kumar Modi, a former Deputy Chief Minister, and the state unit president Mangal Pandey, an MLC, returned their gifts, including microwave ovens, in protest against non-payment of salaries to lakhs of school teachers in the state.
Modi, BJP Legislature Party Leader, returned all seven gift items, including the microwave oven that he received during the ongoing Budget session, at a Legislative Council counter, while Pandey returned the oven.
A Legislative Council employee manning the counter confirmed the return of gifts by the two BJP leaders.
“How can we take gifts from the education department which can’t even pay salaries to lakhs of school teachers?” he said.
“There is no justification for giving gifts to the legislators by different departments as a lot of money goes into purchasing them .... The gifts are not properly utilized by the legislators who distribute it among the party workers and other people for use,” he said.
He also wrote to Kumar urging him to take the initiative for convening a meeting of the business advisory committees of the two Houses of the state legislature to put an end to the practice so the funds thus saved could be utilized for development.
However, unfazed by the criticism, state’s Education Minister Ashok Chaudhary said,”It has been a long-standing practice by various departments to give gifts to the lawmakers....some BJP leaders are needlessly making it an issue for the sake of publicity”
He defended his department’s decision to gift microwave ovens costing Rs 11,225 apiece to 243 MLAs and 75 MLCs, saying it was customary for various governments to present goodies to legislators.
Chaudhary hit back at the BJP leaders, saying they should take up the matter with Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and ask her to release funds under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Centre’s flagship scheme for universal education, so the teachers could be paid.
As the row escalated, Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav and his mother Rabri Devi, a former chief Minister, slammed the BJP legislators over their “belated move” to return the gifts and wondered why they accepted those in the first place. They accused Modi and other BJP leaders of “playing politics” over it.
“The BJP legislators, including (Sushil Kumar) Modi, had received gifts during the erstwhile RJD rule, too. They should return those gifts as well as those received during the NDA regime over eight years,” Rabri Devi said.