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Noise over Amazon junket

Siddaramaiah

Bangalore, Dec. 26: Funds are apparently short and a dry spell has widened the craters on the roads.

But Karnataka’s lawmakers have come up with the remedy: a “study tour” to the Amazon rainforest to learn how to make waterfalls. And just in case the waterfalls don’t work out, they can look back and say that things can be worse. The trip includes a desert safari too.

The 12-day trip the legislators are planning shortly will be the second in less than one-and-a-half years since an all-party group of 14 MLAs went on a similar study tour in August 2012 to South America.

“Why make an issue out of it?” chief minister P.C. Siddaramaiah said today, when pressed about the wisdom of such an all-expenses-paid junket when the government has been deferring repairs on the capital’s roads citing lack of funds.

Assembly Speaker K. Thimmappa too defended the trip being planned by 30-odd legislators. “It’s not as if we are travelling every day. It’s the only opportunity that we MLAs get unlike MPs who travel abroad more often.”

It was Thimmappa who revealed the scholastic intention of the legislators who would leave in two batches for the trip to Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Dubai. “We would visit waterfalls in the Amazon forest with an aim to replicate them in our state,” he said.

According to information available, the MLAs would visit the Sugarloaf Mountains, Guanabara Bay and Tijuca rainforests in Rio de Janeiro, a Tango show in Buenos Aires and round off the trip with a desert safari.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah pointed out that the planned trip was not the first state-paid tour. “Why are you all after this?” he shot back when the media quizzed him about the tour. Lest he sounded brash, he added: “It’s the job of the legislature committee to see if such a tour is fine. They don’t come to the government about these things.”

Mallikaiah Guttedar, who heads the Legislature Estimates Committee that planned the trip, justified the decision. “It comes at just Rs 7.5 lakh per head,” he said.

But the nod for the trip has come at a time several deadlines have passed on the Congress government’s promise of “world-class” roads to residents of Bangalore city. Siddaramaiah had recently said the slow pace of civic works in the IT hub was because of a funds crunch.

While many roads need urgent repairs, vast swathes of the state are bracing for a drought. More than 500 villages face an acute drinking water shortage.

And that is where, according to the MLAs at least, the study tour comes into the picture. Minister N.A. Harris, who went on a similar trip to Washington and London a few years ago, said overseas jaunts were a great “exposure”.

“Usually, only new MLAs go on foreign trips that would give them an idea how countries run their various facilities,” he said. “I benefited a lot from my trip.”