Facing a relentless opposition assault over "wasteful expenditure", the Goa government on Friday cancelled a state-funded trip of six legislators, including three ministers, to Brazil to watch the football World Cup that would have cost the exchequer Rs 89 lakh.
It said the decision was taken "bowing to public sentiments". "Government has withdrawn the order. We have done this bowing to public sentiments," Goa Sports Minister Ramesh Tawadkar said hours after the legislators made public their decision to foot the bill for the trip themselves.
Five members of the group have, however, been allowed to visit the South American nation in their private capacity and the government will not sponsor the trip. "We were scheduled to visit Brazil because Goa will be hosting National Games and has also bid for Under-17 football World Cup. We had personally decided to see the infrastructure due to which Goa government had approved the trip," Tawadkar, who has chosen to opt out, said.
"Since government has cancelled the trip, I will no more be heading the delegation. That's why I have decided to opt out of it, I will not be going," he said.
Tawadkar said the hype over the delegation's visit over the last two days had forced the ministry to cancel it.
Opposition Congress, which had earlier in the day refused to give credence to the MLAs announcement about picking up the tab for the visit themselves, however, insisted the government make public the noting on the file that the trip stood cancelled.
"We want the noting to be made public. Till that time we will not be satisfied as the Manohar Parrikar government has a habit of taking U-turns," Congress' Goa spokesman Durgadas Kamat said.
He said the government went into damage control after "the whole Brazil fiasco blew up in its face". "This is just a damage control considering that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be in the state tomorrow," he said.
Pulling no punches despite the government cancelling the trip, Kamat said now corporate houses would fund the visit of the five MLAs. "Sources say that business houses will fund the trip for the legislators. This is a nothing but a direct bribe and in most advanced countries it is illegal for politicians to accept these kinds of favours. No business house gives away money without exacting their pound of flesh," he said.
The Sports Minister, however, rubbished the charge, saying "There is no corporate sponsorship. It's all rumour." The proposed Brazil visit of the six MLAs had yesterday sparked a row after it became public that the state sports department had sanctioned Rs 89 lakh for the tour.
A fuming Congress termed the trip a "wasteful expenditure" and even wrote to Prime Minister Modi seeking his intervention to "stop the junket".
But Chief Minister Parrikar had remained defiant and defended the decision, describing it as an "investment" by the government which has declared football as Goa's official sport. "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 continuation of that partnership," he said.
"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 understanding the mechanisms of holding such events," he had said.