While the chief minister, on a weekend trip to Rajgir, called it a way to pay tribute to the ancient capital of Rajgriha, now Rajgir, his political opponents, Lalu Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan, have called it a year-ender picnic at public expense. But unperturbed by criticism, the chief minister on Tuesday announced that he would hold a Cabinet meet in January aboard a ship on the river Ganga.
Some tax-payers may also see the Rajgir Cabinet as a waste of money. The estimated cost of the government extravaganza is about Rs 50 lakh. At a time when inflation is high and the people are bearing the brunt and the state government is blaming the Centre, the Nitish Kumar government might not have sent out a palatable message.
Kumar himself has offered the undertaking and monitoring of developmental projects at Rajgir ad Nalanda as reason, but he would find it hard to evade the controversial picnic aspect of the cabinet-on-hills. The then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharati had drawn flak for taking her entire Cabinet to the banks of the Narmada. But NDA MLAs did not find anything wrong in it. This is an age of under-water and in-the-air Cabinet. The Rajgir Cabinet is not an extravaganza, said a JD-U MLA.
Bihar government sources revealed that the mere movement of 25-odd Cabinet ministers and their personal staff to Rajgir and the food arrangements would have cost over 30 lakh. Over a hundred vehicles reached Rajgir for the purpose. Though over 25 members of the staff of the chief ministers office had left for Rajgir for a weekend stay, Kumars cabinet colleagues were asked to join in only for the day and to return to Patna in the evening.
A government official said: A big outstation jamboree costs around Rs 50 lakh. Additional security forces, arrangements for VIP stay, incur heavy costs. The cost for the Rajgir Cabinet will be almost similar to the daily expenses incurred during the Vikas Yatra, undertaken last year, he pointed out.
The chief minister, however, sought to deflate such criticism by showcasing the cabinet nod for the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. People might well forget the government extravaganza with their New Year gift putting an additional burden of Rs 600 crore on the exchequer.
Perhaps Nitish knows his government will not come back to power and hence he is making the best use of good times, said RJD chief Lalu Prasad. Nitish, for his part, invited Lalu to take a dip in the Rajgir hot waters in order to stay cool.