The ‘so-called’ austerity drive got more mileage, amongst the general public, when Shashi Tharoor, the Minister of state for external affairs, made a reactionary comment on it from his Twitter account as being ‘cattle class’, while traveling in an economy class.
However, later, as a face-saving measure he had to provide a clarification that,
“It’s a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travelers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle. Many have misunderstood.”
In an official memorandum issued by the finance ministry,
“It has been decided that with effect from April 1, 2010, travel on government account by air, both domestic and international, may take place by the entitled class.”
With the recent sharp revival in the domestic markets, partially led by global recovery, the finance ministry has sought to ease the austerity measures to some extent. However, the austerity measures in case of leave travel concession (for travel by air) will continue as of now.
Earlier during the last year, with the onslaught of the global economic crisis, Congress-led UPA government had announced an austerity drive for its ministers in form of taking flights to domestic and international destinations through economy class instead of premium class seats.
Apart from that, followed by a media expose, the Congress high command had also directed two of its ministers, S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor, to move from their five-star stays to more accommodative class dwellings, in the move to keep a check on the government’s coffers.
In a follow-up of the austerity drive announced by UPA, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had traveled to Ludhiana in the chair car of Shatabdi Express in the lead to provide an ideal for its other ministries, to strictly adhere to the orders pronounced then, by their high command. The same precedent was set by Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee by traveling in the economy class to fly through various destinations.
According to the memorandum issued on September 2009, the austerity drive was adopted in order to cut expenditure in government departments. The sharp ill-effects of global financial crisis were coupled with a disappointing monsoon season over the last year. Many farmers had attempted suicide in the wake of failure of crops on account of below expected monsoons.
The memorandum was valid for fiscal 2009-10, which is suppose to get expire by this March end. April 1, 2010, will bring with it a whiff of relief for the ministers in form of premium class air travel from one destination to another.
Was Austerity drive just a gimmick, that it is thrown out of window in such a short span?