New Delhi: The morning began with two toilets occupying national mindspace. A Right to Information application revealed that the Planning Commission has spent 35 lakhs on renovating two toilets at its offices in Delhi. Five lakhs had been invested on installing a system that would limit entry to the toilets to electronic card holders.
Online and elsewhere, there was fierce criticism of what was seen as lavish expenditure by a body that designs India's economic blueprint - its five year plans - and which had controversially said that Indians who spend more than Rs 32 a day in cities are above the poverty line. "The Planning Commission's toilets should be protected as the eighth wonder of the world," said the BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
The Planning Commission used a detailed statement to clear the air. A press release said that the money had been spent on two toilet blocks that could accommodate 20 users at a time, and that they include facilities for differently-abled users, which can be expensive.
The Commission also said that the smart card system had been introduced to avoid "pilferage" of sanitation equipment and that it had been discontinued because it was not practical. The toilets were for public use, it emphasized, while pointing out that the upgrade followed many complaints made by ministers and foreign dignitaries who had visited the building.
"The plan to renovate the toilets was in the budget and we thought the public toilets is used by everyone and it's not one or two it's an entire block which is being renovated. these toilets were 50 years old and the pipelines was very old and it was leaking which could cause health issues as well. That's why the entire toilet block is being renovated here," said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
Though the explanation presented the rationale for the expenditure, stressing that it had been accounted for in the Commission's annual budget, critics remained unconvinced.
"There is almost everything that is wrong with what was done and with the justification for it. The Planning Commission represents planning for whom, the poor of the country. And there has been a dispute with their figures because there has been a perception with everyone that within the planning commission they have one standard for the poor and another for the rich," said Nikhil Dey, an activist.