- Eight politicians including ministers travel to Australia, New Zealand
- Will study how farmer loans are handled by lawmakers there
- Cost: six lakhs per head. Government paying half the bill
The cost per head: six lakhs. The government -that is you, the taxpayer - is paying half the bill. The balance will be funded by each legislator. Each delegate has been permitted one companion; at least two spouses are part of the trip; some legislators have taken a sibling or a personal assistant.
The trip, which began on Tuesday, has been defended as a "study tour" by the government. "Such tours are necessary and they are conducted to enlighten yourself and it is to learn good practices from other countries," professed Sudhir Mungantiwar, Finance Minister.
Along with Agriculture Minister Pandurang Fundkar, who is from the BJP, the delegation includes members of opposition parties like the Congress.
Farmers across Maharashtra are demanding that the government waive 30,000 crores of loans given to them, pointing to a similar move enacted recently by Yogi Adityanath, the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Just a few weeks ago, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said he was willing to examine a similar program for Maharashtra.
Since this year began, more than 700 farmers have committed suicide, most of them in the drought-prone areas of Vidarbha and Marathwada, trapped in a cycle of debt and failed crops.
Apart from debt relief, farmers have been asking the government to ensure they are paid more for their produce. Yesterday, many farmers abandoned the pulses, onions and bananas their farms have yielded in protest outside the government's headquarters in Mumbai.
In 2009, when the previous Congress-led coalition governed Maharashtra, a foreign tour of legislators planned as a similar study abroad program was cancelled after criticism of the extravagance during a period of extreme agricultural distress.
Radha Krishna Vikhe Patil, the leader of opposition of the state from the Congress said "The Agriculture Minister should not have gone on this trip". However, at least one MLA from his own party is also included in the foreign trip.