How a tragedy in Israel put the brakes on a ₹2 crore junket from cash-crunched Kerala

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BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 01, 2023 | 11:54 AMUpdatedApr 04, 2023 | 9:22 PM

Kerala Agriculture Minister Agriculture P Prasad.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s worry over spending crores on a junket, when the state’s finances are already precarious, found a resolution, albeit in a tragedy.

Last week’s deadly shooting which left seven people dead and three others injured at a synagogue in East Jerusalem in Israel stopped a junket set to cost the LDF government in Kerala ₹2 crore.

On hearing about the incident, Vijayan advised Agriculture Minister P Prasad to drop a scheduled tour to Israel along with 20 farmers in the state to learn advanced agricultural practices there.

The seven-day trip was about to start on 12 February, and the Finance Department had already sanctioned the money for the expenses despite the state’s poor finances.

The cost of the junket was set to get higher when government planned to include some of the top officials in the Agriculture Department in the team, along with a set of “friendly” journalists.

The move to allocate more funds to the junket had sparked opposition within the ruling coalition and the general public ever since the itinerary was published. Critics termed it a wastage of public money as all the selected farmers were economically well-positioned. There were also allegations that the team comprised just pro-CPI farmers and journalists other than top officials.

The tragedy in Israel proved to be the best excuse for Vijayan to put off the junket. Now the whole plan has been dropped. No new date has been fixed.

Vijayan also informally conveyed to the CPI leadership the government’s financial difficulties and the lack of fairness in having such an extravaganza at this time.

CPI(M) and Vijayan have many objections against B Ashok, principal secretary of the department, which reportedly prompted Prasad to take the initiative for the trip.

Ashok was among the officials who decided to go with the farmers. When media persons asked the minister about the renewed date, he said the trip would take time as Israel is now witnessing frequent clashes.