A newborn State calls for some gifting. And going by the latest recommendation of the Telangana Legislature Committee on Amenities, a salary hike is one that Telangana legislators are soon gifting themselves.
The meeting of the committee was attended by the Assembly Speaker S Madhusudhana Chary, Legislative Council Chairman K Swamy Goud, some MLAs, Finance Minister Eetala Rajender, R&B Minister Thummala Nageswara Rao and representatives of various political parties. It was recommended that the gross salary of MLAs and MLCs be hiked from Rs 95,000 to Rs 3.5 lakh a month. Out of this, the basic will be Rs 12,000 while the rest will be in form of allowances. The panel also demanded a hike in vehicle allowance from the current Rs 15 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.
Congress MLC Ponguleti Sudhakar Reddy told Outlook that "the panel also suggested enhancement of pensions of former MLAs, many of whom are living in penury or facing financial hardships because of rising costs of living. It mooted unlimited medical coverage for widows of former MLAs as well."
A plan to build 120 flats in Hyderguda for MLAs has been in the works since 2012 but due to various reasons, it did not take off. The panel recommended that these flats with club area and other facilities be completed by December this year.
Interestingly, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, in reply to a question in Assembly, stated that his government had never said that two-bedroom housing scheme for the poor would be completed in five years. "We said we will construct the double-bedroom houses. But we never said that all the houses will be constructed in five years," said the CM. The two-bedroom houses for the poor formed a major poll plank of the TRS both in the Assembly elections as well as the recently held Greater Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad polls.
The Opposition sought to know during the Budget session as to how the TRS government would fulfill its poll promise of two-bedroom houses when there was no allocation in the Budget. KCR then intervened and said there was no time limit to complete the promise. "The Congress wants there to be a meaningful and reasonable hike," says Sudhakar Reddy refusing to comment on whether Rs 3.5 lakh is too steep a salary for legislators.
Koppula Eeswar, TRS MLA and Chief Whip, says that the salary hike is just at the proposal stage and the decision will be taken by the Chief Minister. "I have been an MLA for 12 years and it is a 24-hour job. I do not think a hike is unjustified," he says. Refusing to be named, an MLA says that nobody takes into account their overheads such as drivers, house-help, expenses on gunmen, diesel, gifts to people at marriages, donations or the unending expenses in their constituencies. "I think we certainly deserve this kind of salary," the MLA said.
Former MLC and Osmania University Professor, K Nageshwar, however feels that "this kind of an unprecedented hike is absolutely unethical and unacceptable". "Just because they have the power to legislate, MLAs cannot arbitrarily increase salaries in this manner. If the current hike comes into effect, an MLA or MLA will draw more than a Cabinet Secretary whose salary is the highest in the bureaucratic order. And what they have done is keep the basic to a minimum at Rs 12,000 so that taxation is less. Allowances are not subject to Income Tax," says Nageshwar.
There are some MLAs such as senior Congress leader Geetha Reddy, BJP Floor leader G Kishen Reddy who are opposed to the move. "Under these circumstances when the State is reeling under a drought and there are huge debts, mana salaries manam penchukodam manchidi kaadu ani naa abhiprayam (increasing our own salaries is not good)," says Kishen Reddy. He opines that being an MLA is service-oriented profession and one ought expect monetary benefits. "But anyway when the discussion comes up in the Assembly, I will oppose it," he says.