The Indian government has claimed to be tightening its belt to rein in a burgeoning deficit. But, apparently, at least where the Planning Commission is concerned, there's austerity and then there's value for money.
The economists who draw up India's five-year spending plans allotted a whopping $63,000 to renovate two toilets in their Yojana Bhawan headquarters and install a smart card system to make sure only 60 senior officials are able to sit on the thrones, NDTV reported Wednesday.
"It is unfortunate that what is routine maintenance and upgradation is being projected as wasteful expenditure... The impression is being created that this has been spent on two toilets. That is totally false because these can be used by 10 people simultaneously," the Planning Commission said in a press release issued after NDTV published the story.
Still, this is the same Planning Commission that drew flak earlier this year for setting the poverty line at 52 US cents per day in urban India.
"The expenditure has been revealed by a Right to Information application filed by activist Subhash Agrawal," the news channel said. "The Commission also planned to install security cameras in the corridors leading to these toilets to ensure equipment was not stolen. The 35-lakh ($63,000) toilets were, according to plans, to serve as models for upgrading another three toilers in the building at a later stage."
The Planning Commission said that the smart card system was not designed to limit access only to senior members. "These toilet blocks are meant for shared use and are all being renovated to the same standard. Because there have been instances of pilferages of newly constructed toilets, an access-control system was initially tried, but not found feasible in practice," NDTV quoted the press release as saying.
No information was available about the type of reading material that was provided.