The police are also acquiring three bullet-proof cars from Japan for Rs 1.5 crore.
New Delhi: The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government in Kerala seems to be least concerned about the state’s precarious financial condition and is indulging in one extravagance after another, ignoring criticism from the Opposition.
Even as the state Finance Minister Thomas Isaac keeps on blaming Centre’s policies and dwindling Good and Services Tax (GST) collections, there is no let up in government spending. From foreign trips of ministers accompanied by families to appointments of party men in key positions with huge salaries and perks, the Vijayan government is making merry. Now the CPM has decided to send all chairpersons of government-aided colleges for a week-long “training” abroad. Most of these student activists, hailed as future leaders, belong to the CPM’s student wing, Students Federation of India. Many of them have criminal cases against them, including those from the prestigious University College in Thiruvananthapuram, where they had indulged in the stabbing of a co-student. Interestingly, they are not being sent to Cuba or Venezuela, not even China, but to London for, as the education minister put it, enabling emerging leaders understand what is happening in the world! Some months back, the government had posted a CPM leader who had lost in the general elections, as special envoy to Delhi with Cabinet rank. The explanation given at that time was that he would ease doing business with the Centre. Now he is busy hosting lunches and dinners for any Malayali worth his or her name passing by the national capital.
But the recent decision by the Kerala Police to hire a helicopter for Maoist surveillance and “other purposes” takes the cake. In a move termed by the Opposition as “sky loot”, the police department has struck a deal with the public sector Pawan Hans to hire AS365 Dauphin N3, Medium Twin-Engine 11-seater helicopter for Rs 1.45 crore for 20 hours of flight time a month. As per the wet lease agreement, the company would charge Rs 7 lakh for every additional hour flown. Malayalam channels and newspapers have revealed that Pawan Hans charges only Rs 85 lakh for the same copter from the Chhattisgarh government. Moreover, Chipsan Aviation, a Bengaluru-based company, had come out with the claim that it had indeed offered the state government services of three copters, one a five-seater and the other two six-seaters, for the same rate. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s police advisor Raman Srivastava, who negotiated with Chipsan, had rejected the offer citing not enough space inside the choppers. Srivastava is a retired IPS officer and a former DGP of Kerala whose very appointment as advisor two years back had surprised many in both political and bureaucratic circles.
The hiring of the chopper has come at a time when the Left Front government is facing criticism for gunning down Maoists, with the Opposition and human rights activists in the state terming the police action “fake encounter killings”. Though no FIR against Maoist activities have been filed in any of the police stations in Kerala, seven alleged activists of Communist Party of India (Maoist) have been killed in three encounters in the past three years in the state.
The Opposition is alleging that Maoists are just a cover and the helicopter is hired for VIP use, especially the Chief Minister. Back in January 2018, the Chief Minister was embroiled in a controversy involving another helicopter ride to attend a party conference. At that time it was alleged that Rs 8 lakh was given to the private copter company from the State Disaster Response Fund. A cornered government later clarified that the general administration department would foot the bill. More than the politics of it, the government seems to be insensitive in going ahead with the deal at a time when the state is facing a severe financial crunch.
The move to hire the helicopter is also seen as a deliberate attempt by the Kerala Police to legitimise the actions of its anti-Maoist squad, the Thunderbolts, and claim huge amounts in Central assistance. The police are also said to be acquiring three bullet-proof cars from Japan at a cost of over Rs 1.5 crore. The state police have identified seven of the 14 districts in the state as Maoist infested, a claim many independent observers feel exaggerated. The CPM central leadership, too, had questioned the veracity of the police claim that the victims were indeed Maoist sympathisers. The party had always strongly condemned such police action elsewhere in the country.
When Pinarayi Vijayan took charge in 2016, the total public debt stood at Rs 1.50 lakh crore. According to the government’s own admission, it has now touched Rs 2.50 lakh crore. It seems the Left Front government has got its priorities wrong. Thousands affected by the devastating floods of 2018 are yet to get compensation. The much touted rebuilding of a New Kerala is not taken off. There is no transparency on the funds collected in the name of floods. The government has refused to make public the use of funds so far collected.
It is well known that the CPM spends crores of money from public exchequer and Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to hire top ranked lawyers from Delhi to defend party men involved in political murders in the state. Lakhs of rupees are spent in cases moved to stall CBI inquiries. Many precedents set by the current dispensation will definitely be followed by the next, even though the Opposition is now criticising such government spending. Irrespective of the state being ruled by the Left or the Right, public seems to have no say on their own funds.