Under attack over their proposed government-funded trip to Brazil to watch the football World Cup, six Goa legislators on Saturday decided to pick up the tab for the visit themselves although opposition Congress said it would only believe them if an official notification confirmed their decision. “The six (of us) legislators met last evening. We decided to go to Brazil on our own without taking money from the state government. We don’t want to spend money from the state exchequer. We don’t want to be a burden on the state coffers,” Fisheries Minister Avertano Furtado told a news agency.
The proposed Brazil visit of the six MLAs, including ministers Ramesh Tawadkar (Sports), Avertano Furtado (Fisheries) and Milind Naik (Power), had sparked a row after it became public that the state sports department had sanctioned Rs 89 lakh for the tour. Congress had termed the trip a “wasteful expenditure” and sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to “stop the junket”, although Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had defended the decision and described it as an “investment”. Furtado said that the decision was unanimously taken by the six of them, including the MLAs Benjamin Silva (Independent), Glen Ticlo and Carlose Almeida (both BJP), after the media created a “hype” over the tour. “It was a big hype created that we are going at the cost of the state exchequer. All six of us decided that we will pay from our own pockets and visit Brazil,” said Furtado, a former goalkeeper of Salgaocar Football Club.
However, Congress refused to give credence to their claims about paying their own bills unless “the government comes clean on the issue in black and white”. “They have made a U-turn. But the government has to come clean on this, in black and white. Congress demands that the notification that the MLAs are going on their own is made public,” said Goa Congress spokesman Durgadas Kamat. “We don’t believe the statement by the ministers because we have seen several U-turns by the Parrikar government,” he said. Former Congress MLA Jitendra Deshprabhu demanded that the “books of accounts” related to the trip, which was cleared by the government, be placed before the Legislative Assembly.
“I don’t think there is any truth in the statement of the ministers that they are going on their own money. Yesterday, they were justifying their travel at the state’s expense,” he said. “I will be delighted if the Prime Minister, who has been advocating austerity measures for his Cabinet colleagues in Delhi, advises his (party’s leader) here to ensure that similar austerity measures are brought in the state administration,” Deshprabhu said.
The legislators are expected to meet the Chief Minister later in the day to convey their decision. Despite the uproar, Parrikar had yesterday strongly defended the tour, terming it an “investment” by the government which has declared football as Goa’s official sport. “We are looking at this as an investment. Goa has declared football as a state sport. The delegation approved by the state government has MLAs who are actually footballers,” he had said.
“The decision (to send the delegation) has been taken in the state’s interest. Recently, we organised Lusofonia Games where Brazil was one of the participating nations. The current trip is a continuation of that partnership,” he said. Parrikar had said that India is hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup and Goa has bid to organise some of the matches. The visit would help in the understanding of the “mechanisms” behind holding such events, he had stated.