PATNA : Bihar government departments are playing Santa Claus to the Assembly’s 243 legislators during ongoing Budget Session, showering gifts such as microwave ovens, trolley bags and smart phones on them. At a time when more than 3.5 lakh teachers are awaiting their salaries since November last year, the education department gifted microwave ovens to all the MLAs and 75 MLCs on Friday. The cost of each microwave oven was `11,125, making the combined cost `35.37 lakh. Justifying the largésse, state education minister and Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee president Ashok Choudhary said: “Microwaves have been given so that MLAs can heat the food served in the mid-day meal scheme in their areas and test it for quality.” When reminded about non-disbursal of teachers’ salaries, he said: “The microwaves cost `25-30 lakh in all. Relating it with other issues is not right.”
The state’s road construction department gifted smartphones, while the urban development ministry handed out trolley bags. “It is a decades-old practice. MLAs were given gifts after the budget of the departments were approved in the Assembly. Earlier, a folder was given to keep papers. Giving costly gifts is a recent trend,” said an ex-legislator. Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav defended the government’s freebies. “Bihar is a poor state and elected people here are not millionaires, so what’s wrong if they get such gifts?” he said. BJP leader and former leader of the state Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav said: “This is an old practice. We got a gold plated watch in 1995 when Deo Narayan Yadav was Speaker of Vidhan Sabha.” The only exception were CPI(ML) legislators. “This a sheer waste of public money and amounts to bribing elected representatives,” said party leader Kamlesh Sharma.