The Aam Aadmi Party has moved away from past tradition by constituting an independent committee to recommend pay hike for Delhi MLAs as, so far, the norm was to have a House committee, headed by a chairperson from the opposition party, in place.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have questioned the authority and competence of the independent committee, whose proposal for a four-fold increase of basic pay has attracted criticism from the political class and common man alike.
Congress ex-MLA Mukesh Sharma told The Sunday Guardian that issues related to MLAs’ compensation and allowances are reserved for the discretion of the Union Home Ministry and the Government of India, and that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal “is merely trying to divert public attention from his own administrative failures” by wittingly inviting controversies on non-civic issues.
“He stoops to name calling of Delhi Police, then he quarrels with the Lt Governor. On other occasions he comes out with irrelevant pay committees. These are his ways of diverting attention from his non-fulfilment of poll-promises and his failure to arrest basic problems such as price rise, water supply, or recent spurt in dengue,” Sharma told this correspondent.
He added that in former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit’s time, pay hikes were decided by committees comprising “House members”, whether belonging to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha or Vidhan Sabhas. “All political parties were given representation and we ensured opposition leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the BJP headed it,” he added.
The BJP too jeered the proposed pay-hike, which, if implemented, would raise the current MLA salary of Rs 88,000 per month to Rs 2.1 lakh per month. Delhi BJP spokesperson Deepika Sharma accused the AAP of “overt corruption”. “This is an overt corruption for the simple reason that the party which came on the plank of looking after the interest of the common man, is looking after its own people. This particular committee they have formed comprises people who have zero legislative and financial experience. The committee members are themselves coming on television and defending themselves. Where in the world do you find an example of committee members defending their own decision?” she told The Sunday Guardian. She further said that the “Aam Aadmi Party is filling its own coffers, giving plum post to its own people, and abusing its mandate”.
The committee has suggested that the current basic pay of MLAs be revised from Rs 12,000 to Rs 50,000, constituency allowance from Rs 18,000 to Rs 50,000, secretarial, research and office assistance from Rs 30,000 to Rs 70,000. It has also recommended a per month communication allowance of Rs 10,000, conveyance allowance of Rs 30,000, besides a daily allowance of Rs 2,000 and a one-time allowance of Rs 1 lakh. The MLAs will also be allowed a vehicle loan up to Rs 12 lakh. The last time Delhi MLAs got a pay hike was in 2011 when the Sheila Dikshit government increased remuneration by 100% citing inflation and rise in the cost of living. Deepika Sharma said it was unreasonable to hike MLA salary by such huge margins, as it would cost the Delhi exchequer an additional Rs 18 to 20 crore. “In a state where the MCD has not been paid, where widows and pensioners are not being paid, where there is a shortage of funds for medicine despite an alarming rise in dengue, the AAP is fortifying its own henchmen,” she told this correspondent.
The independent committee’s recommendations have drawn widespread criticism on social networking site Twitter, where people are lambasting the AAP for contradicting its stated objective of probity in public life. But AAP members came out with untenable argument defending the proposed pay structure. “A salary hike is important for an honest MLA if we want him to live with dignity and self-respect. A salary hike is important if we don’t want an honest MLA from any party to have to make compromises due to financial constraints. So it’s my humble request that this salary hike recommendation should not be seen from the old prism where it was linked with greed,” AAP leader Ashutosh wrote in his column published in the website of an English news channel.
However, as the protests grew louder, AAP seems to be distancing itself from the controversy. When this correspondent spoke to AAP spokesperson Deepak Bajpai, he said that “the government is yet to take a call. This is a recommendation from an independent channel and the government will take a call. I would not comment at this point about the quantum of hike.” He, however, added that a basic pay of Rs 12,000 is not “sufficient for an MLA”. Mukesh Sharma contradicted: “Delhi constituencies have a radius of 10 km. Why on earth an MLA would need Rs 30,000 for petrol?”