In defence of Messrs Krishna and Tharoor

Why is the UPA government insisting that the taxpayer subsidise the new ministers?

SM Krishna and Shashi Tharoor have declared that they are paying for their own accomodation at five-star hotels in New Delhi. But they are members of a party and a government that just doesn’t get the idea of private property. Small wonder that they are at the receiving end of the finance minister’s “request” asking them to move out of their privately-financed luxury hotels to taxpayer-financed state accommodation. (Even if they still pay the rent from their own pockets, state accomodation is inevitably subsidised by the taxpayer)

Mr Mukherjee’s hypocrisy lies in using taxpayer funds to convey an impression of ‘austerity’ because some parts of India are suffering from a drought. Even this faux austerity is unwarranted and useless even from a symbolic perspective—just like the insistence on wearing khadi. Surely, someone should point out the irony of scale and scope: the UPA government caused immense damage to public finances through gargantuan spending programmes since it first came to power in 2004 and now calls for MPs to give up 20% of their salaries as an austerity measure.

On the question of housing Messrs Krishna and Tharoor the question that ought to be asked of Mr Mukherjee and his economist boss is whether the government of India is paying fair market prices for the bungalows and bhavans it occupies in New Delhi? It doesn’t matter that the government actually owns the real-estate—there is an opportunity cost. Can’t all the parliamentarians and high government officials be moved into high-rise complexes somewhere in New Delhi, and their Lutyens’ bungalows be rented out? There are a number of government offices—engineers, commissioners, registrars and post offices—that could be moved out of the most expensive areas into less expensive ones.

Forget austerity, mere maximisation of the use of government assets suggests that Mr Mukherjee should turn the whole lot of sarkari grandees out of their palatial homes. He could start by moving out of his own bungalow, into a private hotel, and settle the bills with his own funds.

21 thoughts on “In defence of Messrs Krishna and Tharoor”

  1. If the government cut down on the security detail of a lot of VVIPS (Mr Amar Singh, Mr Robert Vadhera etc), that would be an austerity measure.You could even use the savings to protect people really at risk, like commuters at Bombay VT.

  2. Nitin,
    Your comparison of this austerity measures with public programs begs further discussion.
    At the cost of sounding cliched… I feel that you are comparing apples and oranges here. Public spending programs are questionable from a fiscal POV but they come attached with public welfare. However the spending by these ministers do not seem to cause a proportional public welfare. Stopping the later and continuing the former by no means amounts to hypocrisy. In fact continuing these public measures at the cost of fiscal burden is a globally agreed Keynesian method to ride out recessions.

    -Pradeep

  3. Pradeep,

    OK. Then you should push for your favourite Keynesian government to auction off the lucrative real estate in New Delhi and use the funds for Keynesian purposes.

  4. Nitin

    Just to clarify that i was merely making a rhetorical reference to highlight the Pranab’s ridiculous directive

    What is curious about the entire episode is the paper which carried the news item.IE editor Shekhar Gupta is widely acknowledged as the most reliable and shameless spinmaster of Congress party -an imminent RS entry is in the offing.He would definitely not do anything remotely adversial to the ruling party which might sabotage his chance and that too by suddenly rediscovering the old anti-establishment investigative instincts of this once glorious paper.Also IE is editorially supposed to be committed to virtues of free market/Private Property etc or so it proclaims

    So the most plausible explanation would be that this was hatchet job done by the powers that be in order to deliberately embarass SM Krishna and Shashi Tharoor.For all you know the two ministers might have in some kind of turf war with the interventionist PMO -may be they were resisting another S-e-S type unilateral capitulation .Or probably the twittering Minister ‘s natural self-aggrandishment tendencies and natural limelight stealing ways has not amused the palace one bit

    Nothing else could possibly explain this controversy being deliberately through stokeda planted story in a ruling estd friendly newspaper-afterall the ministers stayed in the luxury accomodation for more than 3 months

  5. I was initially sceptical on the financial feasibility of even mightily moneyed individuals staying at luxury hotel for period of 3 months especially
    given entitlement mindset afflicts the netarati.It was difficult to believe that they will spend estimated Rs 50 lacs from personal funds for Dilli accomodation ?However coming to think of it S.M Krishna has got some family biz empire to support his indulgence .Ex-UN officials also tend to be very wealthy eg Kofi Annan .So i think it shoud not be difficult for the said ministers to cough up the sum

    Only thing that perplexes me is why they are letting the controversy fester?As someone if they could publish the bills in their websites all contoversies will be set to rest

  6. >>So the most plausible explanation would be that this was hatchet job done by the powers that be in order to deliberately embarass SM Krishna and Shashi Tharoor.

    Good catch there, Prasanna. I have not been reading the crappy newspaper you alluded to, so missed its latest in the antics dept. I have a slightly different theory here. Which answers your question:

    >>Only thing that perplexes me is why they are letting the controversy fester?

    This little gimmick is meant not so much to embarrass the afore-mentioned gents as to paint a halo around Madam. Today’s headline reads: “Krishna, Tharoor leave 5-star hotels on Sonia’s intervention”. Now you see the light, right? When this government wavers from the path of righteousness — to say it never does would be a futile attempt at fooling people — mater familias will lash the whip and set things right. Now you may sleep well tonight knowing that she’s watching over this country with a benign eye and an iron fist.

    The other birds that are felled with the same shot are:

    1. IE gets to wear its now-we’re-busting-corruption hat (look at the number of yokels who lined up to say “Thank you IE!” in the comments section )
    2. Since IE is busting corruption, if there’s loot on the order of thousands of crores, IE would surely report it, but since IE is not reporting it, there surely is no loot. You may sleep well again.

    Nobody gets hurt seriously. Not even Krishna and Tharoor.

  7. Does anyone know what is the assets declared by S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor in the elections?

    Are their spending on the luxury hotel comparable with their assets?

    If they have been given a concession does it not amount to corruption where government employees are getting favours from private enterprise?

  8. Congress probably believes that phoney manufactured tears for aam admi could masqueradethe ugly character of the Stalinsit socialist order that it represents and abundance of super rich and mightily moneyed folks in its rank

    This entire charade of UPA government safeguarding some alleged creature named aam-admi is probably the greatest charade that has been prepetrated with the active support of suppliant media.By some distance this is the richest Cabinet in the history of independent India.Collective assets of this Cabinet which includes likes of Pawar/Praful/
    Azhagiri/Maran/Raja/Krishna/Chidambaram/Vasan/Vilasrao Deora will add up to astronomical sums.

    To use a commonly favoured socialist technique-collective wealth of cabinet would probably be equal to the wealth of the bottom 30% of aam-admi.Since i am been increasingly drawn to redistributive potential of socialism especially after being sensitised by watching NDTV documentaries i propose that assets of the cabinet ministers can be taken over by the government and distributed to those at bottom 30% of the pyramid.

    This move will provide immense help to the the aam admi.I hope someone like Jean Dreze can quickly work on a scheme like this which will be more effective than NREGA

  9. @sudhir

    Looks like you are desperate to pin some charge—any charge—against these two politicians. I’m sure you can find some offence if you look deep enough…but tell me, when did the witchhunt start?

    Dude it is ribtickling to see that in a discussion on how GOI is squandering thousands of crores on poorly used assets, the comment is about whether discounted tariffs amount to corruption.

  10. If the hotels are willing to give discounts to Sri Krishna and Tharoor, and they are paying out of their own pockets, as long as this discount-giving is not translated to favours from the MEA (not even remotely likely), What is the hullaballoo all about?
    Is it a crime for a govt. servant to spend their own money in India?

  11. Oldtimer, good headline! Worth a laugh πŸ™‚

    I wonder who’s paying for the renovations that two top MEA ministers have ordered. Krishna was occupying a presidential suite for six months! He’s got some serious money unless he’s going to pay for the discounted suite in kind using his “good offices” in near future.

    And btw, while we are at it, can we ask the Nehru’s grand and great grand children to leave the expensive public housing too.

  12. Udayan,

    Seems like UPA-II is above criticism for you(but not for me). Now what do you want me to discuss Kandahar incident as media is doing. (FYI:The normal charge for the presidential suite used by S M Krishna is 1 lakh + / night). I am fine if SM Krishna is paying the full amount from his own pocket which comes to around 90 lakhs+. (His declared asset is 18 crores)

    Why would the luxury hotels give any discount to the ministers if they are not expecting any favors in return?

  13. Sudhir wrote:
    “Why would the luxury hotels give any discount to the ministers if they are not expecting any favors in return?”

    Sudhir, I doubt if Messrs SMK or ST will be doing Taj hotels any favours personally…steering foreign business their way is perfectly legit in my view. All good for local economy and hence that view.

  14. Nitin,
    I never mentioned that I saw the request by the FM as a method of reducing fiscal deficit. I still maintain that the comparison of the Govt. requesting austerity measures (signalling) from the MPs cannot be compared to fiscal spending. Quite simply one cannot compare the costs of running a government to government spending. The two are entirely different things.

    -Pradeep

  15. The Taj Hotel is a symbol of over-consumption and waste. Symbols matter in a democracy; they matter in an Empire also–thus we have India Gate, Red Fort, etc.
    Said with more humor here:
    You may not like it, but there is something to it.

    hb

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