Study tours by Chandigarh councillors may not have yielded much for the city as far as developmental works are concerned but have certainly hit the government exchequer. Going by the details of the councillors’ study tours undertaken in the last 12 years, a whopping Rs 1.53 crore has been spent on such tours to various locations within India and abroad.
Public money was splurged on as many as 20 such tours in over a decade, even though there was criticism from all quarters and these were called leisure trips. The purpose of every tour was nearly the same: to study sanitation, water supply, roads and functioning of different wings.
The most expensive study tour was organised in 2014 to Chennai, Port Blair and Kolkata which cost the exchequer Rs 28.50 lakh. As many as 39 people, including 19 councillors, their family members and UT and MC officials, went on the tour to study various projects like that of sanitation. Interestingly, the councillors during their nine-day tour also visited islands including Havelok, Ross and Coral which were not there in the itinerary.
The second most expensive tour was the one to Bengaluru and Coimbatore in 2011 as it cost Rs 16,39,700 to the exchequer. As many as 14 councillors and two officials visited the two places to study sanitation, water supply, roads and functioning of various wings as usual. However, there has been no change after the tour and the problems persist.
The next tour was to Kolkata and Gangtok in 2010 where Rs 16,07,791 was spent on 14 councillors and two officials. The councillors had gone to study roads, horticulture, sanitation, water supply and garbage disposal in the hill station so that things can be “improved” in the city. But nothing came out of it.
Similarly, a tour to Singapore and Bangkok in 2007 had cost Rs 15,10,560 to the exchequer. The tour was made by 18 councillors and two officials to study nearly the same projects which they had been doing in the past.
All these years, the councillors continued to visit those places which were already visited in the previous years. Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Gujarat and Kolkata were the places which were visited frequently by the councillors but that did not help in changing anything back home.
In 2011 alone, the councillors spent Rs 38,49,188 on three study tours. While Rs 16,39,700 was spent on a tour to Bengaluru and Coimbatore, Rs 22,09,488 was spent on two separate trips to Chennai, Puducherry, Madurai and Coimbatore.
No trip was undertaken in 2012 since it was the first year after the new councillors took over. In 2013, trips to Gujarat, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad cost Rs 8,45,376. In 2015, a trip by UT Mayor Poonam to Spain cost Rs 2.85 lakh to the MC. Sharma had attended a conference in Barcelona.
BJP councillor Satinder Singh had raised the issue that the study tours were a wastage of money. When elected for the first time, Singh stated that he was shocked to get a letter from the MC wherein he was asked to tell which all places he wanted to visit. “I was shocked when I saw that letter. I had given a reply that it would be better if they spent that money on the problems of my ward. It is public money after all,” he says.
BSP councillor Jannat Jahan feels that in the age of Internet when everything is just a click away, there is no need for spending money on such trips. “When you have all the information on Internet, why do you want such a trip? I have been against the trips from the beginning,” says Jahan, who has refused to go on tours since she was elected.
Study tours and controversy go hand in hand. The episode of 2014 continues to haunt the councillors; it was the year when the study tour to Chennai, Kolkata and Port Blair had created a furore and Rs 9,000 each was deducted from the salaries of the councillors .
During the nine-day tour to Port Blair, the councillors and MC officials went to some places which were not there in the itinerary. The councillors, during their visit to Port Blair, visited several islands, including Havelok, Ross and Coral. They also went to Tirupati, which was not part of their tour, while the administration had approved the study tour to Chennai, Port Blair and Kolkata.
This invited criticism from all quarters. Not only this, but the decision of taking family members on an official trip was also criticised. As the issue heated up, the MC was left with no other option but to deduct Rs 9,000 from every councillor’s salary.
Since then no major tour has been organised. However, in July this year, the councillors had thought of going on a tour to Hyderabad and Mysuru. But yet again a controversy erupted and reactions of city residents forced the civic body to call off the eight-day tour. BJP councillor Saurabh Joshi had sought comments from general public asking whether he should go on the tour. After getting to know that residents did not approve of such tours, the councillors who had given verbal consent also refused to go, following which the trip was cancelled.
The name game
Will it help if the name of the tour is changed to cultural exchange programme, interactive programme or holiday trip? Few councillors say yes.
“From the very beginning, the budget has been coming with the head of study tours. If the same is revised to cultural exchange programmes in which elected representatives from one place go and meet those from other places and get to learn something, I don’t think anybody would have a problem with that,” says Congress councillor Subhash Chawla.
The councillors feel that these trips help in building up a special bond with everybody, be it officers or councillors from the opposition group.
“Why can’t these trips be holiday trips only for councillors where even family members can go? Contributions can be taken from everybody,” says a nominated councillor requesting anonymity. “When you are working, what is the harm in planning a trip once a year together?”