Legislators, cutting across party lines during the ongoing budget session of the Uttar Pradesh assembly, are worried, among other things, about their perks and salaries - now at Rs. 50,000 a month.
Citing the price rise and inflation, these otherwise feuding politicians have struck a rare unanimity on their pay hike - if not for combating the spiraling crimes against women or resurrecting the power sector.
And so, amid the bedlam the house is now becoming so used to, senior leaders have openly aired the "urgent need" of revising their salaries and perks to at least enable them "offer tea and snacks to visitors". This in a house that boasts of 271 crorepatis (multi-millionaires) among its 403 members. A report of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) compiled on the basis of affidavits submitted ahead of the 2012 assembly polls, puts the figure of multi-millionaires at 67% of the house strength.
Of them, the maximum crorepatis belong to the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) which has 140, followed by the BSP (63), the BJP (32), the Congress (18) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (7).
Prominent among them are Nawab Qazim Ali (Congress), Subhash (SP), Sanjay Jaiswal (Congress), Noor Rana (BSP) and Vimla Singh (BJP).
The voiceferous demand for a higher salary and revision of perks caught many seated in the visitors gallery by surprise as the fervent appeals came minutes before they drove off in their swanky SUVs.
The salaries and other emoluments of the state's legislators were last revised February 7, 2010, when the government, then headed by chief minister Mayawati, had announced: "The government has decided to hike the salary and perks of members in both houses to Rs. 50,000 per month from existing Rs. 30,000."
Till then, legislators received Rs. 3,000 a month as salary, Rs. 15,000 as constituency allowance, Rs. 6,000 as medical allowance and Rs. 6,000 as secretarial allowance. Then, on March 7, 2013, political expediency prevailed on economic prudence as minister of parliamentary affairs Mohd Azam Khan announced that very soon there would be another hike. Predictbly, the announcement was greeted by the thumping of desks, both from the treasury and opposition benches.
Legislators now get a basic pay of Rs. 8,000, a constituency allowance of Rs. 22,000 and Rs. 10,000 each as secretarial and medical allowance. Other than this, they are entitled to free rail travel of Rs. 125,000 in a year and a monthly telephone bill of Rs. 6,000. Cabinet ministers, junior ministers and the speaker and the deputy speaker, obviously, get more benefits.
The BJP's Suresh Khanna, who has been raising the matter every now and then, finds nothing wrong in the demand. "Our post, rights and prestige are defined separately in the Constitution. Members of parliament are placed at 22 while legislators are placed at 22A in the warrant of precedence, while the chief secretary is placed at 24. When we are above him, we should also get more salary," he said matter-of-factly.
Going a step further he pointed out that at times, they do not get respect (from bureaucrats) "because we get less salary. They enjoy more salary and perks while we stand nowhere in comparison. They thus take the liberty to ignore us," he said while also demanding that salaries should also be linked to the consumer price index.The parliamentary affairs minister, though not on the same page politically as Khanna, echoed similar sentiments in 2013.
Responding to the salary hike demand Azam Khan had said: "Our legislators are getting very little salary. In foreign countries, the legislators get good salaries, well-maintained offices and efficient staff. Our salary is nothing compared to them."
On Thursday, Khanna again pleaded with the state government to immediately consider a salary hike and even found support from the Congress camp. Congress legislature party leader Pradeep Mathur dittoed the demands and urged the government to prioritize action on their salaries.
The request is said to be under "active consideration" of 41-year-old chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who, however, does not seem to be in a hurry to act, sources said.
"The CM is open to the idea but for now, the consultative process with the finance department is under way," claimed an official. Yadav had burnt his fingers in a similar attempt when soon after being sworn in as the state's youngest chief minister 2012 he had mooted providing luxury SUV's to all legislators from the government kitty.
After public outrage and media spotlight, the move was quietly buried. With a majority however in favour of a salary hike this time, a decision in favour of the legislators seems to be in the offing sooner than later!