After a very public reprimand from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee following media reports of S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor staying in five-star hotels pending renovation of their official accommodation, the External Affairs Minister and his junior colleague announced on Tuesday that they were relocating themselves to more modest digs.
“I have requested both the ministers to vacate the hotel rooms and go to the bhavans of States they were elected from. The External Affairs Ministry also has a guest block at Hyderabad House, which can be occupied,” Mr. Mukherjee told reporters when asked to comment on an Indian Express report about Mr. Krishna and Mr. Tharoor having spent the past months in hotel suites.
By afternoon, MEA officials said Mr. Krishna planned to shift to the Foreign Service Institute campus guest house in south Delhi. Mr. Tharoor, who reportedly checked out of his hotel suite last week before a visit to Kerala, will apparently be staying at the Naval Officers mess. Officials said both their ministerial bungalows would not be ready for several weeks.
The irony is that in being forced to move, the two Ministers — who were earlier paying their room and board all the way — are likely to end up costing the taxpayer money since the FSI and Naval mess are, in some sense, ‘official’ quarters.
When contacted by The Hindu , one Congress minister defended Mr. Mukherjee’s request on the grounds of “negative optics” even though the two ministers had not spent a penny of public funds. But he acknowledged it might now prove difficult to know where to draw the line on other kinds of personal expenditure. Why shouldn’t the lunches and shopping of ministers and MPs now be monitored, for example?
Off the record, MEA officials were critical of the media hype and of the Finance Minister’s intervention. “Hyderabad House is used every day for some official event or the other. How is it possible for ministers to stay there for weeks or months?” asked an official.
As for the State-run bhavans, Mr. Tharoor posted on Twitter: “The govt has never paid a single paisa for my stay at the Taj. This is frankly ridiculous? I need 2 things daily that Kerala House doesn’t offer — a gym and some privacy.”