Karnataka begs for cash, but MLAs bent on Rs60-lakh junket

Even as the Congress government in Karnataka has sought Rs1,014 crore from the Centre for drought relief in 14 districts, an all-party group of 18 state legislators is going ahead with their South American junket. On Thursday, MLAs cutting across party lines insisted there was no reason to cancel the tour of three South American countries.

The 12-day ''study tour'' to the Amazon rainforest at taxpayers' expense is ostensibly to learn how to make waterfalls. The trip includes a desert safari too. It will be the second such junket in less than a year and a half since an all-party group of 14 MLAs went on a similar study tour to South America in August 2012.

''Why make an issue out of it?'' chief minister P C Siddaramaiah said today, when pressed about the wisdom of such an all-expenses-paid junket when the government has been deferring repairs on the capital's roads citing lack of funds.

Assembly Speaker K Thimappa, who clears foreign tours, pointed out that one team of Karnataka legislators was already in Australia, which would mean that as many as 30 state legislators will be out of the country. But he made this unwitting comment in defence rather than opposition of the junket, of which he is a part. ''It's not as if we are travelling every day. It's the only opportunity that we MLAs get unlike MPs who travel abroad more often,'' he said.

The 18 MLAs of the estimates committee of the legislature are set to tour Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Congress MLA Mallikayya Guttedar, who heads the estimates committee, said the legislators were not committing a crime by touring South America. "Are schoolchildren not sent on educational excursions? MPs and MLAs are being sent in a similar manner,'' he said.

The expenditure of Rs7 to 7.5 lakh on each MLA was not much and such tours were a part of the events for every legislature in the country, Guttedar said.

The estimates committee is planning to visit holiday destinations in South America, including Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Iguassu, Lima, Cusco, and Buenos Aires; including the Sugarloaf Mountains, Guanabara Bay and the Tijuca rainforest in Rio de Janeiro, and a Tango show in Buenos Aires,with a final stopover at Dubai – obviously for a shopping spree. The tour is expected to cost the state exchequer about Rs60 lakh.