Montek defends Rs 35 lakh toilets, lashes out at media

After an RTI application revealed that Planning Commission spent  a massive Rs 35 lakh to renovate two toilets at Yojana Bhavan, the Commission issued a statement in an attempt to explain the expenditure.

Meanwhile Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia lashed out of the media, saying he was 'surprised' that so much hue and cry had been made over an RTI application without bothering to check with the Planning Commission first.

"It is unfortunate that what is routine maintenance and upgradation is being projected as wasteful expenditure... The impression is being created that this has been spent on two toilets. That is totally false because these can be used by 10 people simultaneously," states the press release.

Elaborating further on the Planning Commission press release, Ahluwalia said that the toilets in the Planning commission complex were in a terrible state and had not been renovated for the last fifty years. "When we tried to renovate them we were told that the entire plumbing system would have to be replaced. This is why it was so expensive", he said.

The commission, in its statement, justified the massive spending by saying it was a necessity and for public convenience.

"Every day large number of people visit and work at YojanaBhawan . More than 1,500 meetings are held every year and thousands of people use these public conveniences. A common complaint over the years was the poor quality of the toilets in the building—a complaint made not just by the ministers and foreign dignitaries who visit, but also by the staff and the journalists."

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.

Aluwahlia said however, that the smart card system was necessary because women felt more secure.

 Montek defends Rs 35 lakh toilets, lashes out at media

Montek Singh Ahluwalia. AFP

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 Commission claims that despite five lakhs being spent on installing a system to limit access to the swanky toilets to those with smart cards, the toilets are not reserved for senior members. The commission also explained that the amount spent was not just on two toilets, but for the renovation of a number of toilets.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Commission, avoided questions on Wednesday morning about the controversy.

The Planning Commission and its Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia created a major controversy recently over their poverty estimates.

With the new toilet controversy, 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.

Read the entire statement by the Planning Commission here

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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2012 16:36:53 IST