The only issue that echoes a massive consensus and cohesion in J&K’s bicameral legislature is the wages of the lawmakers. Every time, the issue crops up, the house displays this rare unity. Last week, the Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti indicated that her government will be doubling the lawmakers’ package which will take them closer to Rs 2 lakh a month.
There is no harm in admitting the fact political beings especially the lawmakers have to play host to hundreds of people from their constituencies. Their costs of living are obviously high. If they are not paid adequately, it will end up encouraging lawmakers to look at other options for managing their resource deficit.
The argument that legislature is getting peanuts if compared to the size and volume that government employees takes home a month – Rs 20,000 crore plus. But nobody is looking at the sheer numerical. Lawmakers have never been more than 132 and employees have already crossed six lakh. At the same time, however, there has to be a system in place that will ensure the lawmakers are decently and respectfully paid.
J&K’s lawmakers as also their counterparts in others states were the least paid workers in the system, possibly because their job was being unnecessarily linked with social service. In 2008, they were being paid Rs 10,000, a month.
The first revision took their salary to Rs 17000 and that was done by Ghulam Nabi Azad. The next change happened in 2011 when Omar Abdullah changed their package to Rs 85000, a month, retrospectively from 2009. Then, happy lawmakers took million home and all of a sudden lawmaking became a formally rewarding profession. Interestingly their package is designed in such a way that there is no income tax liability.
But that is not the only thing that J&K lawmakers are getting.
Lawmaking is pensionable regardless of how many days the MLA gets into the house. Their pension jumped from Rs 5000 a month to Rs 13000 and then nearly to Rs 24000. From August 2014, it is Rs 29000. To this is added Rs 1000 per year of their active service in the house. Interestingly, if the lawmaker dies, his family will still get 75% of it!
For every day of work, they charge the system Rs 1000, be it during the house or as part of a committee. Every time a lawmaker flies, he gets 50% of the ticket costs in addition to the permissible DA. That is perhaps why lawmakers fly executive class.
They also have a right to claim a reimbursement of Rs 1 lakh as yearly family travel. They get full reimbursement of their medical bills regardless of the fact that whether they treat headache in Chennai or Hyderabad. In every term, they get a housing loan of Rs 5 lakh for 4% of interest, much lower than the priority sector loans. The state government lacks any record of who had lifted the loan and who paid. MLAs in J&K are the DDO’s and they draw their salaries directly.
All these facilities are in addition to full security at home, office and movement, right to respectful residence at Jammu and Srinagar. They get accommodate at highly concessional rates every time they move out.
Right now when the government has promised them a respectable hike, the policy makers must be in a position to rationalize the set-up of extending all the amenities the lawmakers have rights to. It should not look a bunch of people desperately to take everything home.