Yojana Bhavan, a relic of the era when umbrellas were seen in New Delhi if it rained in Moscow, squats like an ugly toad on Sansad Marg which the posh refer to as Parliament Street. Like many other buildings housing Government of India offices — for example, Shastri Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan and Sanchar Bhavan, to name a few — the architecture of Yojana Bhavan stands out for singularly lacking in aesthetics. It is, and was meant to be, a grey concrete box where pompous and politically-connected gasbags who have arrogated to themselves the exalted title of ‘economist’ and are collectively known as the Planning Commission, sit and plot how best to keep India mired in poverty and Indians trapped in the vicious cycle of denial, deprivation and destitution, the three ‘D’s that define the virtuous goals of Socialism.
The dank corridors of Yojana Bhavan exude the musty smell of paper mouldering in dusty files that have not been opened in years if not decades. The unwashed masses and the perfumed classes may think that their Government’s motto is ‘Satyameva Jayate’, those who are in power believe it is ‘File and Forget’. That accounts for the millions of files stacked in government offices, each with a number. The Great Filing System is an awesome job generator: There are babus who create the files, there are babus who stuff the files with note sheets till they bulge obscenely, there are babus who maintain a record of these files, and there are babus who guard them with remarkable zealotry.
But we digress. Files can wait, as any hard working senior babu will tell you, for another day. What is of import at the moment is some interesting information, contained in one of the thousands of files that weigh down Yojana Bhavan and prevent it from flying off with its gasbags, also known as ‘economists’, that has come to light following the filing of a query under the Right to Information Act. Never mind what Ms Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council comprising the righteous and the sanctimonious think of the RTI, the Congress and the Government it notionally heads are by now ruing the day a leftover idea of the NDA years was hastily enshrined as a guiding principle of the UPA.
Thanks to Mr SC Agarwal, the applicant who sought and ferreted out the information under the Right to Information Act following the publication of a sketchy news report, we now know that two toilets in Yojana Bhavan have been renovated in recent times. The total cost of the renovation is Rs 35,19,776. The information provided by Yojana Bhavan shows that while the ‘basic’ renovation cost the taxpayer Rs 30,00,350, an additional expenditure of Rs 5,19,426 was incurred on installing smart card-operated doors. In other words, more than Rs 35 lakhs, a whopping sum even in these days of high inflation, have been spent on sprucing up the executive loos of Yojana Bhavan for the comfort of its voodoo economists. Among the new installations, so we have been told, are closed-circuit television cameras, apparently to keep a check on ‘thefts’.
This startling revelation gains importance on three counts. First, the current boss of Yojana Bhavan, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, wants us to believe that all it takes to survive in our cities is Rs 32 a day — in rural areas, one can survive on four rupees less. He has proved to be impervious to cries of shock and dismay. Yet he uses toilets that have cost more than Rs 35 lakhs to ‘renovate’ (they would have cost a king’s ransom had they been built from a scratch). That the bill was settled with the taxes we pay is a natter of detail. What is of stunning interest is that he should have agreed to this colossal waste of public resources, making a mockery of the plight of those who have to make do with far less than smart card-activated doors and fancy gadgets while relieving themselves. And not all of them survive on Rs 32 a day.
Second, it is inexplicable that in these hard times when the Government is seeking to make a virtue of cutting back on wasteful expenditure by announcing ‘austerity measures’, tax money should be squandered on recreational facilities by another name that are reminiscent of the toilets that came to symbolise the criminal callousness of dictators and tyrants like Nicolae Ceausescu and Saddam Hussein. Third, it is ironical that while the Planning Commission’s perverse policies over the decades have led to a situation where 50 per cent Indians own cell phones but 63 per cent don’t have access to toilets, the gasbags of Yojana Bhavan have got themselves insanely expensive loos. Meanwhile, the Congress has washed its hands of the scandalous waste and left Mr Ahluwalia to carry the can. But that’s too predictable to be taken seriously.
The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist