The government may be speaking of austerity and curbing expenditure on various public schemes, but the the Planning Commission must not have got that memo and an RTI application has revealed a massive Rs 35 lakh to renovate two toilets at Yojana Bhavan.
According to the RTI application filed by activist Subhash Agrawal, not only were the two toilets renovated for this sum, an additional five lakhs was spent on installing a smart-card system which restricted access to the toilets to 60 senior officials who work at the complex.
NDTV reported that the commission also planned to install security cameras in the corridors leading to these toilets to ensure equipment was not stolen. The 35-lakh toilets were, according to plans, to serve as models for upgrading another three toilets in the building at a later stage. Whether they would also have access through smart cards was not clear.
The petitioner S Agarwal meanwhile, hit out at the Planning Commission, and said his RTI application had revealed that another three such toilets were in the works. "It will not end here. Some other government and public offices will follow the same trend. This kind of wasteful expenditure when the government is talking about austerity and when the planning commissioner says that Rs 28 is the poverty line, is ridiculous", he said.
The revelations of the RTI application has drawn massive criticism from opposition parties. Senior BJP spokesman Balbir Punj said that the revelation was 'shocking' and strongly condemned the move.
Meanwhile the news has prompted the phrase Rs 35 to start trending on Twitter, with some well intentioned 'toilet humor'. @Roflindian said, "Spending Rs 35 lakhs for two toilets must be the most expensive way to relieve a south block in the morning", while @RameshSrivats said "By spending Rs. 35 lakhs on renovating two toilets. India has made it clear that it is an emerging susuperpower."
There have also been some obvious references made to the extravagance of the planning commission, particularly comparing the large sum of money to the much criticized Rs 28 urban poverty line that was decided upon by the members of the commission.
Travel costs of Planning Commissioner Montek Singh Alhuwalia were also criticized in a recent report in The Hindu. columnist P Sainath argued, based on RTI information obtained by other journalists, how massive the overseas travel expenses of Montek, who is otherwise known for his justification of the poverty-line argument, were. The highlight of Sainath’s article was that the average daily expense of Alhuwalia was Rs. 2.02 lakhs during his overseas travel between May and October last year.
Using Montek’s own Rs 26 a day calculation, this could have sustained a poor person in rural India for more than 20 years!
The Planning Commission is scheduled to issue a clarification soon.