Is Legislators’ pay hike justified?

  • Is it the right time to dole out the largesse?
  • Is not the issue of the farmers more pressing?
  • Is the T govt. mixing up priorities?

(Ramdas)

The recent news of the sharp increase in the salaries of Telangana MLAs has come as quite a surprise. The Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao made the dramatic announcement of a substantial hike resulting in each legislator’s salary touching Rs.2 lakhs.

This action begs two questions: Is this the right time for this extravagance, and is it deserved? We all know that the birth of the new state of Telangana has thrown up many challenges and problems for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and especially CM KC Rao. The big hurdle of sharing and allocating men, material, natural resources, power and so on among the two states is nothing less than formidable. This unenviable takes has been giving sleepless nights even to seasoned politicians like Naidu and Rao.

But staring us in the face and hanging heavy on our collective conscience is the spectacle of countless farmers committing suicide. Unscrupulous moneylenders have drained the poor tiller of his peace of mind and his very life. The new state and its rulers have no clue as to how to tackle this ongoing human tragedy. Scarcity of water, power, lack of proper fertilizers and seeds– all are contributing factors.

Against this backdrop, the emoluments of all lawmakers have been raised appreciably. Telangana’s coffers are all but empty. Scraping the bottom of the barrel for the MLAs’ benefit will leave precious little for other urgent needs. Perhaps the burden of providing succor to the farmer is too heavy, so it is ignored altogether. This is somewhat akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.

Generally, legislators all over the world are the final arbiters of their fiscal health. Collectively they give themselves raises and allowances, no questions asked. There is no superior authority to monitor this and decide the need or suitability of the extra payments. That is why, in Europe or America or Asia this is the argument: “I am working hard for the people, why shouldn’t I live better and get compensated better.”

Some of the TRS legislators, at the receiving end of the largesse, have explained: “We go on tours etc., so the extra compensation is necessary,” or: “We need an assistant and more staff so I it is only fair that we be paid more”.

The real questions to be asked of the Telangana CM are: Is this the appropriate time to raise MLA emoluments? With such a financial crunch is it called for at this juncture? Where are the plans formulated to tackle farmer deaths?”

Having said this, we have to examine the suggestion of the chief minister that pay hike would prevent legislators from thinking of illegal ways of making money. It implies that those who are taking bribes are poorly paid. In reality it is the rich who cut corners to make more money and the honest could be found even among those employees and political workers who are paid pittance. Wealth and corruption have no connection. Rao’s argument is intended to buttress his claim that the decision to enhance the pay of the legislators has been well thought out and would eventually put an end to corruption in public life. Rao was also found talking about his experience during his Singapore visit during which he was told that the pay and remuneration of the prime minister of that country is more than that of the US President. That was the reason, according to Rao, for absence of greed and corruption among the politicians of Singapore. This argument is like a knife with edges on both sides. The case can be argued both ways making it difficult to give a value judgment

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