State Legislators Obscene Pay Hikes

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Strange but true, legislators in states like Telangana get paid more than the President of India or the prime minister. But state legislators seem to have only contempt for constitutional conventions or for that matter, the poverty of their own people BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

The framers of the Indian Constitution displayed considerable forethought, foresight and vision while drafting its various provisions and it is universally acknowledged as one of the best written documents in the world. But even they could not foresee what the very guardians of the Constitution would do decades later, when it came to promoting their self-interests.

In the atmosphere of euphoria and elation that swept the country in the wake of independence, the catch phrases were “supreme sacrifice” and “serving the nation,” and nobody ever imagined that the elected representatives would one day be consumed by greed and crass one-upmanship.

The competitive spirit with which the legislators of different states have been awarding themselves stupendous hikes in their salaries and allowances, and justifying it with the most puerile arguments, is stunning. They are hoping that some good sense will emerge and reverse course.

It started in March 2015 with the Karnataka government of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah hiking the salaries and pensions of legislators by 75 to 150 per cent at one go. Siddaramaiah claimed the expenditure incurred by the ministers and legislators had gone up “substantially” and they needed to be suitably compensated “to serve the people better.”

The salary of the chief minister was increased from Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 and that of ministers from Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000 besides various other allowances, while the legislators had their perks doubled from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per month - making them the richest law-makers in the country. Pensions were also increased from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000. The hikes were obscene as 24 per cent of the state’s population lives below the poverty line and Karnataka is ranked 20th in social index. Karnataka also has the highest number of poor people among southern states, and its monthly per capita expenditure in rural areas is lower than the all India average. Much of the economic growth in the last 15 years has come from the emergence of the IT industry and Bengaluru accounts for 56 per cent of the GDP - no thanks to politicians or bureaucrats.

Only a year ago, the people of Delhi saw a messiah in Arvind Kejriwal and gave his Aam Admi Party a massive mandate of 67 seats in the 70 member state assembly, routing the Congress and the BJP. But after impressing the people with his ‘simplicity,’ one of the first acts of this con artiste of a chief minister, was to effect a 400 per cent increase in the salaries and allowances of his ministers and MLAs.

The total emoluments package of ministers, speaker, deputy speaker, chief whip and the leader of the opposition went up from Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 3.67 lakh and that of legislators from Rs 88,000 to Rs 2.1 lakh per month. The allowance under ‘secretarial, research and office assistance’ head has been increased from Rs 30,000 to Rs 70,000 and the vehicle loan has gone up from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 12 lakh.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who holds the finance portfolio, claimed the elected representatives were given substantial hikes to “enable them to work efficiently in their fields.” Kejriwal had the fig leaf of excuse that it was all decided by a three-member ‘independent’ committee headed by a former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha.

As if the examples of Karnataka and Delhi were not bad enough, in Telangana, a state not even two years old, the profligate Chandrasekhar Rao government crossed all limits of decency by hiking the salaries and perks of legislators four-fold.

The Amenities Committee headed by the Speaker S. Madhusudanachary and comprising leaders of all parties “unanimously” recommended the legislators be paid a monthly salary of Rs 3.5 lakh and a rent allowance of Rs 50,000 “as day-to-day expenses have gone up.” The car loan was sought to be increased from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.

The records show that there was a long and fruitful debate in the Constituent Assembly on the salaries to be paid to the President of India, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges

The amendments were passed without a squeak in the assembly. Defending the largesse, Chandrasekhar Rao said, “Today there is no need for anybody to make big sacrifices. This is not an era of sacrifices, because we are involved in the process of nation building.” Some nation building this!

A state which is crumbling under the debt burden of Rs 60,000 crore it inherited during bifurcation from Andhra Pradesh and a public debt of Rs 83,000 crore accumulated in the last two years, it makes Telangana a candidate for bankruptcy, but Rao seems least bothered.

He is the only chief minister in the country who has awarded himself a ‘special fund’ of Rs 4,765 crore in the budget, “to meet popular demands during his visits across the state.” Clearly, this man sees himself as some kind of modern-day maharaja

Not to be left behind, legislators in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh also gave themselves a big hike in monthly salaries, from Rs 95,000 to Rs 1.25 lakh, housing allowance from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000, and a books and magazine allowance of Rs 20,000 reimbursable after showing bills (probably fake).

K. Sridhara Reddy of YSR Congress was the lone dissenting voice in the assembly, who said it was unethical when there was drought in the state and farmers were dying. But his leader Jaganmohan Reddy shut him up saying his party was part of the Amenities Committee which supported the bill.

Subsequently, states like Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have followed suit with big increases.

However, the humble legislators of Odisha take home the lowest pay of Rs 20,000 per month, in keeping with the austere life style of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik now serving his fourth consecutive term.

The question is why didn’t the makers of the Constitution think of an independent body to fix and periodically review the emoluments of legislators? The records show that there was a long and fruitful debate in the Constituent Assembly on the salaries to be paid to the President of India, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges.

While fixing the salary of the CJI at Rs 7,000 and that of the President at Rs 10,000, the Constituent Assembly noted, “Since the President is the highest functionary in the state, there ought to be no individual who would be drawing a higher salary than the President...”

Over a period of time this sentiment has been shamelessly disregarded. Today, Chandrasekhar Rao’s salary stands at Rs 4.21 lakh per month compared to Rs 1.6 lakh paid to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was the result of Article 195 of the Constitution which specified that “Members of Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council shall be entitled to receive such salaries and allowances as may from time to time be determined by the legislature of the state.”

As MPs, whose pay was last revised in 2010, are also demanding an increase in their salaries, the Modi government has proposed to set up a three-member independent emoluments commission to recommend “a fair, transparent and equitable pay” for MPs. This suggestion was made by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to the inter-party forum of legislators which met recently. In the interest of curbing the avaricious instincts of our legislators, the same proposal should be extended to the states by amending Article 195. Prime Minister Modi will certainly be aware of it.

Summary

  • State legislators are approving huge hikes in salaries and allowances for themselves despite the poor condition of their people
  • From Delhi to MP, Telangana, Andhra and Karnataka, legislators say the salary hikes will help in “nation building”
  • Legislators in the states now earn more than the President of India or the prime minister
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