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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015

Karnataka Legislators are India’s Best Paid Legislators

Saturday 6 June 2015, by Ambrose Pinto

With the passing of the twoBills—the Karnataka Ministers Salaries and Allowances (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Karnataka Legislature Salaries, Pensions and allowances (Amendment) Bill, 2015—on March 30, 2015 without any debate, the legislators of Karnataka have become the richest legislators of the country. The voting was unanimous in a House that was deeply polarised after the controversy of the suicide of an IAS officer, D. K. Ravi, and the illegal denotification of the Arkavathi layout scam where the BJP had accused the Chief Minister of the State of being a party. The justification given in the Bills for the increase in the salaries and reimbursements of the legislators is that there is a considerable increase in the cost of living and the legislators were unanimous on it without a single dissenting voice. Such an exorbitant hike in salaries of the legislators has been considered as a fraud on the public.

Exorbitant Hike

The Chief Minister leads the race by hiking his salary from Rs 30,000 per month to Rs 50,000. The Cabinet Ministers get a hike from Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000. This is not all. Their sumptuary allowance (regulated personal expenditure) has been doubled from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakhs. A Minister of State will get Rs 35,000 as salary against Rs 16,000. Their sumptuary allowance has been hiked from Rs 80,000 to Rs 2 lakhs. The MLAs and MLCs have hiked their basic salary from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000, telephone allowance from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000, constituency allowance from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000 signifying a total increase of Rs 50,000 per month in the amount that they get directly. In reimburse-ments, the legislators will get Rs 25 per km as travel allowance, with a daily per diem within the State of Rs 2500. The MLAs have also added a new reimbursement category—Rs 5000 per night for each day of stay at a hotel with no limits on how many days they can stay in a year. They only need to produce bills. They will get local transport of Rs 1500 per day. The house rent allowance of all Ministers is hiked from Rs 40,000 to Rs 80,000 per month and house maintenance allowance from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per month. Conveyance allowance is proposed to be hiked from the cost of 750 litres of petrol to 1000 litres of petrol per month.

Not only are the salaries hiked, their future has been made secure. They have given themselves a pension of Rs 40,000 per month, against the existing pension of Rs 15,000. Salaries, allowances and reimbursements of the Chairman of the Legislative Council and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly are on a par with those of the Chief Minister, while travel costs and hotel stay are along the lines of what is applicable to all legislators. The total hike in salaries and allowances for a Cabinet Minister (excluding travel and daily allowance) works out to around Rs 78,000 a month, while a Minister of State will receive Rs 79,000 and a legislator Rs 50,000 a month. The cost to exchequer for the CM and his Ministers will be Rs 3.5 crore per annum. The hike will burden the State exchequer by an additional Rs 47.5 crores a year which could have provided a

few villages with basic amenities of drinking water and sanitation, every year.

Is the Hike Justified?

The salaries of legislators were hiked in 2011. There was no justification for such exorbitant hike at this juncture given the fact that the State is not an economically well-off State and not as prosperous as many other States are. It has painfully lagged behind in social development. The reasonable economic growth of the State is due to the growth in and around one location of the state—that is, Bangalore. Bangalore accounts for over 56 per cent of the State’s GDP.1 According to the official statistics, 23.6 per cent of the people live below the poverty line placing the State 20th among 32 States and Union Territories. The State has the highest number of the poor among the Southern States. The monthly per capita expenditure in rural areas is lower in Karnataka than the all-India average. The infant mortality rate, the number of deaths of children less than one year of age per 1000 births stood at 35 in 2011 placing the State at the 19th position among 35 States and Union Territories.2 As for nutrition deficiency in children, Karnataka was placed 20th among 29 States and Union Territories. In 2011, in the district of Raichur alone 2689 children died due to malnutrition. North Karnataka has been untouched by development. The State has also witnessed farmers committing suicides. The state’s coffers are not all full. How do the Legislators then justify their hike?

There are other grievances among State employees. The educational institutions complain that teachers have not been appointed into schools and colleges and arrears not paid for years. The pourakarmikas, employed by the garbage contractors, have not been performing their duties since they have not been paid for the last five months. A whopping Rs 150 crore is due to the contractors by the State, who in turn have not paid the pourakarmikas. BBMP Commissioner M. Lakshminarayana and Special Commissioner (Solid Waste Management) Darpan Jain had disclosed to the Karnataka High Court that the BBMP is unable to pay the amounts due to financial constraints.3 The State Government had claimed that they have no funds. The Opposition party has attacked the State on the empty coffers. How could the government—that said that they do not have money to pay to pourakamikas—give such an exorbitant hike to themselves? Isn’t this an attack on their social conscience?

The Situation Needs to Change

The legislators, in spite of knowing the State’s finances, have given themselves such an exorbitant hike, making them the richest legislators in the country. The legislators are representatives of the people and their life-style has to be in consonance with the lives of the ordinary people of the State. They cease to be representatives when they fail to realise the pains and sufferings of their people and use their position to increase their wealth at the expense of the people. Looting the public legally is still loot. Besides, the State’s legislators are known for a high level of corruption. In fact, Karnataka has been termed as number one for corruption by Google.4 The hike in salaries will surely not make them less corrupt. Going by the declaration of assets at the time of filing nomi-nations for election and thereafter, every legislator, increases his or her wealth invariably by manifold crores. The argument that hike in salaries will prevent legislators from illegal ways of making money has not proved right. In reality, they have been using their position to be vulgarly rich.

The other States are likely to follow Karnataka’s lead. It would be unfair for the people to remain silent spectators when the legislators loot the State for their personal gratification. There is a need to ask for a body to decide on the salaries of legislators preferably consisting of a judge of the High Court/Supreme Court, Auditor General of the State and one or two members. It is not right that the legislators are allowed to hike their own salaries. The hike is nothing else but a midday robbery. Like the IAS and other services, there could even be a national salary scale for legislators. They too need to have a performance appraisal. A good section of the legislators do not attend sessions. Is it right to give them a hike?

It is the only group of people who claim their salaries without being accountable. The argument that they are accountable to the people once in five years and hence could be allowed to do whatever they decide to do once elected as legislators is not maintainable. Since they are paid from people’s money they need to have much higher accountability than any other group. Not that they should not be paid well. Reasonable salaries and allowances should be offered to legislators who put in more than 90 per cent attendance. But they cannot be allowed to hike their own salaries. The present hike, of course, is unreasonable and against the public interest.

Footnotes

1. Sujit John, The Times of India, August 17, 2013.

2. http://www.karnatakastat.com/health/16/vitalstatistics/291/infantmortalityrate/17794/stats.aspx

3. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/bbmp-blasted-for-not-paying-garbage-contractors/article6893976.ece

4. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/03/21/google-auto-complete-map-india_n_6907764.html?

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.