With freebies to Bihar legislators from the state government snowballing into a major row, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday decided to do away with the long-standing practice from next year.
The Chief Minister’s decision came on a day when two top BJP leaders returned the gifts given to them by the Education Department amid indications that others may follow suit.
“I have never been in favour of distribution of freebies to legislators nor have I ever accepted these during my long legislative career,” official sources told PTI quoting Kumar, who spoke to reporters informally in his Assembly chamber.
“From next year, no gifts will be given to the legislators,” he said, adding the move by some BJP legislators to return the gifts has “reinforced” his stand on the issue.
Kumar’s announcement came hours after two senior BJP leaders, including Sushil Kumar Modi, a former Deputy Chief Minister, and the state unit president Mangal Pandey, an MLC, returned their gifts, including microwave ovens, in protest against non-payment of salaries to lakhs of school teachers in the state.
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Modi returned all seven gift items, including the microwave oven that he received during the ongoing Budget session, at a Legislative Council counter, while Pandey returned the oven.
“How can we take gifts from the Education Department that can’t even pay salaries to lakhs of school teachers?” he told reporters.
A number of BJP legislators are also likely to return the microwave ovens, party sources said.
Education Minister Ashok Chaudhary, however, defended his department’s decision to gift microwave ovens costing Rs 11,225 apiece to 243 MLAs and 75 MLCs, saying it was customary for various governments to present goodies to legislators.
“It has been a long-standing practice by various departments to give gifts to the lawmakers….some BJP leaders are needlessly making it an issue for the sake of publicity,” he told reporters outside the legislative council.
Unfazed by the opposition’s offensive, Chaudhary hit back, saying the BJP leaders should take up the matter with Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and ask her to release funds under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Centre’s flagship scheme for universal education, so the teachers could be paid.
With the matter snowballing into a major row, Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav and his mother Rabri Devi, a former chief Minister, slammed the BJP legislators over their “belated move” to return the gifts and wondered why they accepted those in the first place.
They accused Modi and other BJP leaders of “playing politics” over it.
“The BJP legislators, including (Sushil Kumar) Modi, had received gifts during the erstwhile RJD rule, too. They should return those gifts as well as those received during the NDA regime over eight years,” Rabri Devi said.
Meanwhile, unhappy over the controversy, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was said to have decided to do away with the practice. Sources close to the development said the matter was likely to be brought before the Cabinet soon. There was, however, no official word on it.