New Delhi: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee`s bid to persuade his ministerial colleagues to cut back touring and travel economy if they have to might be more than a politically correct move as India battles drought and a lingering economic slowdown.
Air travel both foreign and domestic, foreign currency expenditure, hotel stays and officials accompanying ministers abroad all add up to hefty bills.
An account of ministerial spending shows that 75% of ministerial expenses incurred in 2007-08 were due to tour expenses. In 2006-07, tours added up to 67% of expenses and 62% in 2005-06.
Tours, rather than salary hikes or other perks on establishment, seem to be the key determinant in pushing up cost of government. Of course, it is not that expenses other than tours are declining or are static. Also with rising inflation and an expanding agenda, government may not be guilty of wasteful expenditure, but it is getting more expensive.
According to the 2007-08 finance account, the latest available in public domain, the total expenditure by the Union council of ministers was Rs 182 crore. It was Rs 121 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 98 crore in 2005-06.
Interestingly, of the total expenditure, the amount towards tour expenses alone accounted for Rs 138 crore in 2007-08, Rs 82 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 61 crore in 2005-06. The salary of ministers and ministers of state totalled a paltry Rs 1.75 crore, Rs 1.54 crore and Rs 1.20 crore respectively in these years. Going by the 2007-08 figure, the cost per minister is Rs 2.3 crore.
The cumulative expenses do not reveal how much mega-ministries like defence and home affairs cost in comparison to much smaller ones like minority affairs and non-conventional energy. Yet, the fornmation of new ministries adds to what it takes to run the government.
The Prime Minister`s Office spends almost twice the expenditure incurred towards salary of ministers, allowances and discretionary grants given to them and money spent on international cooperation. The PMO`s expenditure in 2007-08 was Rs 15.66 crore. It was Rs 14.33 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 14.35 crore in 2005-06. But given the scale of operations it oversees, PMO is a tightly-run ship with modest staff strength.
The proposed 10% cut on the total expenditure towards council of ministers, including PMO, would mean a saving of around Rs 18 crore on the available data of 2007-08. If this is deducted from the ministers` tour expenditure alone, Manmohan Singh`s ministers would still be left with Rs 120 crore to spend.
Among the other organs of state, the judiciary spends an equally high amount. The total expenditure on "The administration of justice" head was Rs 184 crore in 2007-08, Rs 289 crore in 2006-07 and Rs 202 crore in 2005-06. This includes expenditure on Supreme Court, High Courts, civil and session courts, criminal courts and Central Administrative Tribunals and other legal advisors and counsels. But these establishments are much larger than most ministries.
The expenditure on President of India was Rs 18 crore in 2007-08 and Rs 16 crore and Rs 17 crore in the previous two years. Out of the Head of State`s total expenditure, the amount spent on salary and allowances was just Rs 6 lakh in 2007-08 while that on household establishment was Rs 8.44 crore and entertainment Rs 45 lakh in the same year. The pattern was almost identical in the two previous years.