A Maharashtra government reportedly left cash-strapped by the coronavirus lockdown, has cleared the purchase of six cars for ministers, deputies and senior officials of the sports and education departments, including a Rs 22.8 lakh seven-seater Toyota Innova Crysta for Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad
While the total outlay is not yet known, purchase of the Toyota Innova Crysta required special permission from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray because it is above the Rs 20 lakh limit.
This comes two days after Vijay Wadettiwar, a cabinet minister in charge of relief and rehabilitation, said the state's coffers were in such poor condition that the government would have to take out a loan to pay the salaries of its employees.
"Situation of the state is such that we will have to take a loan to pay salaries of government employees next month. Except for 3-4 departments, expenses have been cut," he said this week.
Mr Wadettiwar blamed the centre for the lack of funds but also said "there is no cash crunch for handling COVID-19 situation in the state".
In March the government said senior officials, including ministers and other elected representatives, would be paid only 40 per cent of their monthly salary, with the rest due over two instalments.
The state government's decision to spend lakhs on new cars at this sensitive time has been criticised by the opposition BJP.
"How can purchasing vehicles for ministers be priority of the government in the present scenario? Buying vehicles cannot be the priority at a time when the government is allegedly deferring salaries of employees, including health workers," Devendra Fadnavis, former chief minister and Leader of Opposition, was quoted by news agency PTI.
"This Maharashtra government hasn't supported their people. They haven't protected the police, who are frontline warriors and they can't pay the salaries of their employees. But they have money to buy luxury cars for their ministers," the BJP's Ram Kadam said.
"We request the government to return wage cuts and provide an economic package," he added.
Maharashtra, which makes the highest industrial contribution to the country, has been struggling since lockdown was imposed.
However, Chief Minister Thackeray's government is set to sign 12 contracts with foreign firms worth a total of Rs 16,000 crore, in a bid to jump-start the state economy.
Maharashtra is also the state worst-affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with 1.93 lakh confirmed cases, including 8,376 deaths. Across India the number of confirmed cases is nearing 6.5 lakh, with 18,655 deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
With input from ANI, PTI
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)