Bangalore, Aug 18 (IANS) Karnataka's battered Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has managed to avoid landing in one more mess and saved a few crores of rupees as well by cancelling the foreign tour of over 100 legislators at a time when the state is facing its worst drought in 40 years.
The 'study tour' by these legislators belonging to all political parties - the BJP, Congress, the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) -- and Independents and over 15 officials would have cost the state treasury around Rs.10 crore. The state assembly is 225- strong, including one nominated member.
These legislators are members of five legislative committees - house, assurance, estimate, public accounts and public undertakings. Some of them were to visit Russia and others several Scandinavian and South American countries.
Assembly speaker K.G. Bopaiah had announced last month that these legislators, in groups of around 20 each, would go on a study tour to Russia, South America and Scandinavian countries during September and October. Around 15 officials were to accompany the groups.
As the severity of the drought began to dawn and the government declared over three-fourths of the state drought hit, public outrage began to build up against the tour.
The government has declared 146 taluks (revenue subdivisions) of the state's 176 taluks drought-hit as the monsoon has so far been poor this year. It has sought over Rs.2,000 crore from the central government for immediate relief, particularly to provide drinking water to the people and fodder to livestock.
It is also seeking a whopping Rs.11,000 crore to implement various programmes as permanent measures to tackle drought.
As the government, political parties and legislators concerned gave no indication of abandoning the tour despite the crisis, a public interest petition was filed in the high court seeking a directive to cancel the tour.
As questions began to be raised about the necessity of spending so much money on 'study tour' when people, particularly in rural areas, were suffering from drought, the Congress and the JD-S tried to score political points over the ruling BJP by directing their legislators to withdraw from the jaunt.
The BJP, however, did not give any indication that it is willing to cancel the tour even thought it might upset several of its legislators, who have been divided into various factions.
Apparently apprehending a rap from the high court, several BJP members also began questioning their colleagues undertaking the tour.
BJP's first chief minister in Karnataka B.S. Yeddyurappa, who quit July last year over mining bribery charges, also joined the bandwagon to oppose the tour.
Caught between rising public anger and the unenviable task of displeasing his party legislators, who are badly divided into factions in the state, Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar has tried a balancing act.
The tour has now been put off by two months, though the official announcement has not yet been made. The decision to defer the tour was taken Tuesday during a meeting Shettar had with Leader of Opposition in assembly Siddaramaiah (Cong) and assembly Speaker Bopaiah, according to official sources.
Shettar, who assumed office only last month as BJP's third chief minister in four years, may be saved embarrassment after two months as well. For there is speculation that assembly elections, which are due next May, may be held this year-end itself.