Skip to main content

Presidential Train, Boeing B777: No end to 'unsatiated' spending spree of our leaders

By Shobha Shukla, Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* 

In current times when India, like many other countries, is reeling under a severe economic crisis as well as backbreaking humanitarian crises, we also see ugly lavish (and avoidable) government expenditures, throwing austerity to the winds and jeopardising public interest. While equality is among the key values of the Indian Constitution, there are several instances that remind us of George Orwell’s famous quote: “All are equal, but some are more equal than others”, even during the pandemic.
Despite an existing historic Parliament House building of India, sprawling opulent residences of the President, Prime Minister or other ministers, the government is building a new Parliament and a palatial house for our Prime Minister at a cost of Rs 20,000 crore as per media reports.
But in the Supreme Court the same government backtracked from keeping its promise of paying a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to every person who has died of Covid-19, stating economic cost implications (as almost 4 lakh people have died of Covid in the country so total cost could be Rs 16,000 crore as of now).
What is more humane and much needed -- using Rs 16,000 crore for the welfare of the people, or frittering away Rs 20,000 crore on unnecessary pomp and show? In 2017 the Supreme Court has ordered a financial compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to each victim of Endosulfan pesticide. Should a government ‘for the people, of the people and by the people’ build a new palace for its leaders and a new parliament, or help those who have lost their loved ones to the pandemic?
The Presidents of India, as per news report, from Dr Rajendra Prasad to the current President, have at times travelled by a railway train (many used a Presidential Saloon). In 2019, upon orders of the current President himself, it was put out of use, and the Railway Department was instructed not to construct any more saloons to avoid “increased burden on the general public”, which was indeed a commendable step.
But the same President has now used a full-fledged “Presidential Train” to travel from Delhi to Lucknow via Kanpur and then flew back from Lucknow. Meeting people was one of the said objectives of travelling by train, which is an important activity for a public representative, but are our public representatives truly accessible? Can common citizens go and meet our President, Chief Ministers, Governors, or other Ministers with ease?
A woman who needed urgent medical help died in the traffic jam due to VVIP movement of the President’s cavalcade in Kanpur. Who is responsible for this death? Railway stations of Kanpur and Lucknow were converted into “fortresses” as per media reports – and needless to say how security and traffic diversions impact lives of common people when VVIP movements happen through our city.
The President, who was conspicuous by his absence at the Ram Mandir foundation laying ceremony last year at Ayodhya, was especially brought to Lucknow to lay the foundation of a memorial in the name of Dr Ambedkar with an eye on Assembly elections next year.
There seems to be no end to the unsatiated spending spree of our leaders. Even as the pandemic devastated families across the country, two custom made Boeing B777 aircrafts – fitted with high security self-protection suites and full-fledged office space with conference cabins – and costing Rs 8,400 crore were inducted in October 2020 to be used by the Prime Minister, the President and the Vice President. This expensive aircraft has been grounded most of the time because of the Covid intervention.
Although equality is enshrined as a constitutional right of every human being in our nation, yet we see inequality plaguing us historically. Concentration of power, wealth, and enjoyment of privileges, entitlements and rights by a tiny 1% elite is at the cost of the injustices and inequalities the remaining 99% of the population suffers.
Just to remind ourselves, the President’s salary was increased by the current government in 2017 from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh per month
Oxfam’s Inequality Virus’ Report shows that as the pandemic stalled the economy, forcing millions of poor Indians out of jobs, Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35% during this period. In fact, India’s top 100 billionaires saw their fortunes increase by Rs 12.97 trillion. In stark contrast, 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in the month of April 2020. Another study estimates that around 230 million Indians have been pushed into poverty in the last one year.
The imbalance in wealth distribution in India has worsened since 2014 when the BJP-led government came to power. It has benefitted the corporate sector and big property owners while the poor have become poorer. The Global Wealth Report 2018 shows that 52% of the total wealth of the country is now controlled by the top 1% of the population.
India has ranked 129 among 158 countries in the 2020 Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index. As per the index, India is among the world’s worst-performing countries in tackling inequality. India’s health budget is the world’s fourth-lowest and only half of the population has access to even the most basic healthcare services.
As per news report, speaking at a reception at a railway station while on his way to his native village, the President of India said that officers and teachers earn more than what he gets after-tax deduction. Is he trying to make us believe that the President is poorer than a teacher? For all that one knows, the President’s monthly salary could be more than the annual salary of a government school’s teacher!
Just to remind ourselves, the President’s salary was increased by the current government in 2017 from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh per month. In addition to the salary, the President receives other allowances, which include free housing and free medical treatment facilities (for life).
However, those who produce the food that sustains human life, are struggling to get even the legal guarantee of ‘minimum’ support price for their produce. The ongoing farmers’ movement since more than seven months on the borders of national capital Delhi as well as in other states across the country is another testimony of deep-seated inequities in our governance.
Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, noted thinker and socialist leader, had given a practicable mantra, which incidentally is being followed by some private corporations in United States within their organisations, to not have more than 1:10 ratio between the lowest and highest salary in our society. Should not the minimum monthly salary in India be Rs 50,000 for each one of us, if our President draws the maximum of Rs 5 lakh?
Also, more importantly, is it not the time to question whose work is more important to sustain human life and who should get the maximum salary? Should a farm worker who produces life nurturing food for rich and poor alike get the minimum remuneration, so low that he has to commit suicide when he falls in debt trap? Or the elite service class, or public representatives? Whose work is more essential to meet basic needs for sustenance of human life with dignity. As we rebuild after the Covid-19 onslaught should not we build a fairer and equitable world for everyone?
---
*Shobha Shukla is with Citizen News Service (CNS), Bobby Ramankant is with CNS and Socialist Party (India), Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay award winning social activist, is with Socialist Party (India)

Comments

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Whither SDG goal? India's maternal mortality rate fall target 5.5% per yr, actual 4.5%

By Srinivas Goli, Parul Puri* The maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births) is a key and sensitive parameter used by health policymakers to monitor maternal health conditions in particular and women's status in general in a country.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Reverse progress in fight against hunger? 15.3% of India undernourished: GHI

By Harchand Ram*  Every year October 16 is observed as World Food Day to celebrate the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In the year 2021, the theme for World Food Day is “Our actions are our Future-Better Production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Global Hunger Index: Govt of India response pathetic, 'lacks' scientific empirical evidence

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* Come 16 October – and the world once again focused on the most basic need for a person’s survival: food! The first World Food Day was observed in 1994, to mark the launch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Ever since, the day is marked to highlight the need and importance of food security across the world. The significance is accentuated especially in these difficult times like the C-19 povidandemic. The theme for 2021 is ‘Safe Food Now for a Healthier Tomorrow’, emphasising on the various immediate and long-term benefits of consuming safe and healthy food.

Failure of 'trickle down theory' behind India's poor Global Hunger Index rating

By Dr Gian Singh*  On October 14, 2021, two organisations, Concern Worldwide (An Irish aid agency) and WeltHungerHilfe (a German organization that researches the problem of global hunger), jointly published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. These organizations have included 116 countries in the world hunger rankings.