Too poor to buy a car, Mr MLA? Dig into your development fund

July 3, 2012

For a politician whose party’s symbol is a bicycle and who used the “aam aadmi’s” (common man’s) mode of transport for an election rally, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has stoked all the wrong emotions with a proposal to let lawmakers buy cars using up to 2 million rupees (about $36,800) from their local area development funds.

Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have panned the chief minister’s proposal, one that would cost the state exchequer 806 million rupees ($14.6 million) — in case all 403 lawmakers in the state assembly buy cars priced at 2 million rupees each.

Shouldn’t Yadav, who won the assembly polls earlier this year riding on popular sentiment and promises of reform, use the money to develop Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states? Just days ago, his father — Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav — urged the Congress-coalition government to spend money on development there.

Can the government justify spending taxpayer money on luxury sedans even as they support populist measures as giving laptops and tablet computers to graduating students?

Why can’t lawmakers use public transportation to connect with their people? Why do they prefer an air-conditioned car to riding the bus or the train? Isn’t that where they can find most of their constituents every day? Or does mixing with the populace distract them from the business of politics?

At the very least, could they spend less than 2 million rupees on a car? Allowing MLAs to buy cars at a discount when they complete their five-year assembly terms would have even sounded credible — had Yadav not said the offer was aimed at lawmakers too poor to buy their own cars.

MLAs make 600,000 rupees ($11,046) a year — well over the per capita income of a bit more than 50,000 rupees — and get free housing and utilities. If they cannot afford to buy a car, why not give them an interest-free loan instead?

Update: Akhilesh Yadav withdrew the controversial proposal a day later

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