In recent news reports, Maharashtra minister for Revenue Eknath Khadse, has been accused of wasting water when, in a recent visit to a village in the area, he arrived in a helicopter. Allegedly, the temporary helipad which was constructed just for his visit required 10,000 litres of water. This comes in a few days after the news was filed with reports of the “Water Express” pulling in to provide 5 lakh litres for the city.
To put this in context, 10,000 litres is the weekly ration of a family in Latur.
Minister Khadse was in the news for announcing the plan of the water train. Ironically, he had gone there to inaugurate a water treatment plant. Latur, part of the Marthwada region of Maharashtra has been facing a “drought like situation” for the past two years and in recent weeks been receiving water only once a month for a population of 5 lakh.
The helicopter ride, it has been reported, was to avoid traveling from Latur city to the village proper. The nearly 40 km drive was passed over for a helicopter ride which would save the minister 15 minutes travel time. The helipad itself is a temporary structure, with the water being used mainly to settle the dust, according to a statement by the BJP spokesperson Shaina NC. “Water was used so that the dust doesn’t spread in the air which could have cause breathing problems to the people around, to the passengers or the pilot. Khadse ji is a senior minister and he is suffering from health issues. Please don’t make it a big issue,” as she has been quoted by some reports.
This comes in a few days after Nana Patekar made news for the help he has been extending to farmers facing crisis. His appeal on national TV also had him being talked about on social media with regards to help extended to farmers in trouble.
A stark contrast- with a minister of the people being accused of gross mismanagement of vital resources as opposed to a film star who’s individually extending help in this time of need. The minister has expressed ignorance as to the amount of water being used and promised an investigation into the incident.
The excesses of government ministers have been well tracked by the Indian media. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao had announced plans for a new Secretariat at the cost of Rs. 150 crores for a “vaastu compliant” complex. The new site identified was occupied by the Government TB and Chest hospital in Erragadda, Hyderabad. This comes in the backdrop of MLA’s of the state assembly receiving a 200% hike in their salary. With the state facing a total debt of over Rs. 1.3 Lakh crore, the funds for the proposed salary hike, close to an additional Rs. 100 crores, would be made available through loans. Over all loans needed by the new state has already crossed the Rs. 52,000 crores.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has been in news for introducing Ipads for his entire cabinet. Immediately after coming to power in 2014, he had ordered the renovation of his office, which cost the public funds another Rs. 15 crores. However, because of “bad vaastu”, he shifted his office to another building, of which the renovation of just 2 floors cost Rs. 20 crores. Further, Rs 5 crores were later allotted due to security considerations. The state also recently passed a salary hike for their MLA’s, increasing the financial burden by over Rs. 30 crores per annum. This hike also included, for the first time, an allowance of Rs. 20,000 for each member towards “magazines and books.”
In Uttar Pradesh, we have former Chief Minister Mayawati who has been accused of wasting public funds for the various statues she had had installed during her tenure. Estimates vary between Rs. 4,000 crores to Rs. 7,000 crores and the matter was even picked up by the Supreme Court. These statues were ordered to be covered for the 2012 UP Elections. These statues are said to require approximately Rs. 270 crores for annual maintenance.
India has been slowly moving towards financial crisis, with a combination of government impracticalities and banking sector mismanagement coming together to send the alarm bells ringing. The Supreme Court has time and again pointed out to governments of states and even the Centre with regards to the same.
At such a time, is it wise to be fruitlessly throwing away money on a helicopter joy ride to save 10 minutes of travel? The incident itself isn’t big; rather it is a symptom of a more ingrained issue – that of elected officials enjoying the perks of power at the cost of the people.
With farmers committing suicide over unpaid loans, entire districts suffering from severe drought which need special trains to carry water to these areas, these are troubled times for the Indian public. While Mr. Khadse may be comfortable with the idea of ordering a water train for a district at the same time as a private helicopter for him to visit the place in the same instance, it is high time officials stepped out of their fanciful world and joined the harsh ground realities which each common person faces every day.
While Mr. Khadse’s political party, the BJP, was voted into power on promises of bringing back black money stashed abroad, there has been little progress on that front. Mr. Jaitley, Honbl. Finance Minister has gone on record regarding the issue many times, though investigations are going on as has been the case for over 5 years, having had inputs from at least 2 leaks of financial documents from around the world.
With the investigations still dragging on and such excesses of government officials being reported but going unchallenged, what kind of a message is the common man to understand from this? While Mr. Mallya, member of the Rajya Sabha and accused of financial irregularity to the tune of Rs. 8,000 crores is enjoying his stay in UK, MLA’s getting salary hikes ranging from 100% to 400% (Delhi); it is easy to say the common man is the last worry on the governments’ mind.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar