Four MPs who ducked under dinner tables to escape the fury of terrorists in Mumbai would be wishing they had also put under wraps their sojourn in a five-star hotel, courtesy public money.
In a reply to a Right to Information query, the Lok Sabha Secretariat clearly said that MPs travelling on official assignments should not seek five-star hotel comforts. But that is precisely what lawmakers N N Krishnadas (CPI-M), Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil (NCP), Lal Mani Prasad (BSP) and Bhupendrasinh Solanki (BJP) were enjoying on November 26, when terrorists struck the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
The lawmakers were in Mumbai as part of a 15-member Lok Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation to hold meetings with the top brass of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and other Public Sector Undertakings.
'Committee members or accompanying officers shall not ask for any particular hotel or five star hotel comforts, etc,' the Secretariat said in its reply dated February 25 while answering the RTI application of one Bimal Khemani of Aligarh.
'Four members of our team were staying in the Taj Hotel which was booked by HPCL, which was our host. Some more members were expected to come but they could not come,' panel chairman Krishnadas told PTI over phone.
Krishnadas had last year recounted the 'nightmarish' experience of the terror attacks and how he and others had ducked under tables to escape bullets.
The cost of boarding, lodging and transport of the committee during the tour will be borne by the Lok Sabha Secretariat as per the guidelines and not by the Public undertakings or organisations concerned, the RTI reply said.
'But till the time reply was dispatched these members had not submitted any bills of the visit, which hints that it was actually HPCL that may have paid the bills,' Khemani said.
Despite repeated requests, HPCL authorities did not comment on the issue.
The guidelines clearly mention that during the visits of such committee members, the ministries and state governments concerned shall be requested 'to make arrangements regarding accommodation for the committee and the officers in a government guest house, including guest house of public undertaking, MLA hostel, circuit house etc.,' the reply says.
'Where government guest house is not available, arrangements may be made for the stay in a government-owned hotel,' it adds.
It also says that arrangements for the committee shall be dignified but not ostentatious and should not leave room for adverse criticism from the media or the public.