Patna: Following the act by Nitish Kumar government of showering legislators with gifts, two senior BJP leaders on Monday returned their gifts given by the Education Department in protest against non-payment of salaries to lakhs of school teachers in Bihar.
While Sushil Modi, former deputy chief minister and the leader of BJP legislature party in both Houses of the state legislature, returned all seven gift items, including the microwave oven at a counter in the legislative council, Mangal Pandey, state unit BJP chief, followed suit by returning the oven.
The former deputy chief minister said he and Pandey had decided to return the gifts to the Education department in protest against non-payment of salaries to lakhs of school teachers for months.
"How can we take gifts from the education department that can't even pay salaries to lakhs of school teachers?" he told reporters.
A number of BJP legislators in the state legislative assembly are also likely to return microwave ovens, party
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ashok Chaudhary defended his department's decision to give microwave ovens costing Rs 11,225 each to 243 legislators and 75 in the legislative council saying that it had been customary for various departments to gift goodies to legislators for the past several decades.
"It has been a long standing practice by various departments to provide gifts to the lawmakers....some BJP
leaders are needlessly making it an issue for the sake of publicity," he told reporters outside the gate of thelegislative council.
As far as the salaries of the school teachers were concerned, Chaudhary said the BJP leaders should take up the matter with Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and ask her to release funds under the Sharv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the centre's flagship scheme for universal education.
Chaudhary added that he would explain the entire issue at a press conference in the next couple of days.
Meanwhile, Sushil Kumar Modi has written to the Chief Minister urging him to take the initiative of convening meeting of business advisory committee in consultation with the Speaker and Chairman of the two houses respectively to put an end to the practice of giving gifts to the legislators.
"There is no justification for giving gifts to the legislators by different departments as a lot of money goes
into purchasing those gifts ... These things are not properly utilized by the legislators who distribute it among the party workers and other people for use," he said.
"Under the circumstances, I request you to initiate for convening meeting of business advisory committees for a decision in consultation with the Speaker and Chairman of the two Houses respectively to put an end to the practice of giving gifts to the legislators so that the funds spent on it could be better utilised for development works," Modi said.
The former deputy chief minister said that during the ongoing budget session itself, the legislators have been
showered with gifts, including a microwave oven and 6-7 suitcases which he has decided to return in view of pendency of salaries to the school teachers and other pressing problems of the state.
Modi also urged the CM to direct the concerned departments to take back the gifts returned by him and other
When it rained gifts
For MLAs in Bihar, besides the ovens given to the legislators costing the state exchequer an estimated Rs 25 to 30 lakh, suitcases and mobile phones were doled out by various departments of Bihar's Mahagatbandhan government headed by Nitish Kumar during the first budget session after it assumed office in November 2015.
The MLAs, ruling as well opposition, were being given luxury suitcases and other expensive gift items provided to them by departments listed for special debate and whose budget is listed for approval on that particular day in the House.
On Friday, it was the turn of the state Education department to provide microwave ovens to the Legislators.
Everyday, loads of gifts could be seen neatly stacked up near the main entrance of the Assembly not far away from Chief Minister's chamber which the MLAs pick up after signing in front of their name in the list while going for lunch after the morning session.
When Education Minister Ashok Choudhary was asked by reporters about the reasons for giving expensive gifts like microwave oven on Friday he came out with his own explanation.
"The microwave oven has been given as it could be used by MLAs to heat the food served in midday meal scheme in their areas and test at home for its quality," Choudhary had said, who is also state Congress President, told reporters.
Asked whether showering MLAs with microwave ovens was justified when the state government was not able to pay salaries to teachers due to lack of funds, he said, "it costs not more than Rs 25-30 lakh and hence relating it with other issues is not justified. Please don't hype it up like this."
With inputs from PTI