Kerala CM, ministers’ proposed Europe trips spark controversy

As Kerala is reeling under an acute financial crisis and staring at an overdraft situation, a proposed visit of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and three other ministers to Europe next month has triggered a political row.

The opposition Congress and BJP asked the government to stop lecturing on financial prudence and control and practise what it preached. But state finance minister KN Balagopal justified the visits, saying they will benefit the state immensely and they cannot be postponed citing the financial condition of the state.

The CM and education minister V Sivankutty and a group of officials are slated to visit Europe in the first week of next month. They will visit Finland, Norway and other Nordic countries to explore co-operation in education and cultural sectors.

Tourism minister Mohammad Riyas is expected to travel to France and other countries to explore tourism potential next month, show government records. Industry minister P Rajeev will be visiting Britain in November to attract investment to the state.

“These visits are important to gain knowledge and mutual co-operation and help. They will not impact the overall expenditure of the state. The situation is not that bad as portrayed by a section,” said Balagopal.

CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan also justified the Europe visit of ministers. “Foreign visits are part of governance, we can learn a lot from other countries and explore mutual co-operation,” he said, adding that the issue was whipped up unnecessarily.

Large-scale spending during the just-concluded Onam festival season and the union government’s cap on borrowing limit at 17,936 crore for the nine-month period from April to December aggravated the financial situation of the state.

It also faced a reduction of 3,578 crore in its borrowing limit due to Centre’s plan to view Kerala Infrastructure Development Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) and Kerala social security pension limited borrowings as part of the state’s debt. The centre has rejected its repeated pleas to not to include these two under the state’ borrowing limit.

According to the finance department, the state’s monthly expenditure is pegged at 14,500 crore, but it crossed 15,000 crore in the first week of September. Free Onam food kit, bonus to government employees, festival allowance to pensioners, festival advance to government servants and pay revision liability accrued huge expenditure.

Besides this, the ailing state road transport corporation was given 300 crore to meet pending salary of its employees after the rap from the high court. Onam kits, with 14 food items, distributed to 87 lakh card holders, cost the exchequer 425 crore, finance ministry statistics show.

“Persistent use of borrowed funds to meet revenue deficit, excessive increase in salary and pension, freebies and cut in annual borrowing limit by the central government led to such a situation,” said economist BA Prakash, adding it is high time for the state to stop extravagance and not to use borrowed money to meet routine revenue expenditure.

The Congress and BJP have criticised the proposed visit of ministers. “The state’s financial position is precarious and it is exploring all avenues to borrow. Now ministers are in queue to visit foreign countries. Splurging and extravaganza during lean period, Communist ideology is exposed yet again,” said state Congress president K Sudhakaran.

“These ministers are saying they are going to learn a lot from foreign countries. They often flaunt Kerala-model and ask others to emulate it. What happened now? It is ridiculous,” BJP leader S Suresh said, adding outcome of previous visits should also be taken into account.

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