Palaniswamy's political play: Tamil Nadu MLAs ignore plight of farmers in quest of fatter pay cheques
At a time when job losses are hitting the headlines and increments have been poor, it pays to be an MLA in Tamil Nadu. Monthly salaries have been increased from Rs 55,000 to Rs 1.05 lakh.
Q: Which organisation in India has given the best salary hike this appraisal season?
A: Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly
At a time when job losses are hitting the headlines and increments have been poor, it pays to be an MLA in Tamil Nadu.
Monthly salaries have been increased from Rs 55,000 to Rs 1.05 lakh. Even ex-MLAs benefited, their pension was hiked from Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 per month. The MLA Local Area Development Fund, that is spent at the discretion of the lawmaker, has increased from Rs 2 crore to Rs 2.5 crore.
Cut to New Delhi, where Tamil Nadu farmers have gone on protest once again, disappointed that the promises made by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy were not kept. In May, after a 41-day protest at Jantar Mantar, EPS had requested farmers to call off the protest, promising he will take care. Little did they know he meant he will take care of the political class. They have been asking for a loan waiver and a resolution to the Cauvery dispute. This after 270 farmers have reportedly killed themselves since October 2016.
The pay hike is obscene at various levels. This comes on the back of revelations that MLAs of the ruling AIADMK were paid huge sums of money, running into crores, to vote for the Sasikala faction in the trust vote in February. During the RK Nagar bypoll that was eventually rescinded by the Election Commission in April, the Sasikala faction showed how loaded it is. Its plan to distribute Rs 89 crore at the rate of Rs 4,000 per vote was exposed after an income tax raid at the residence of the health minister, C Vijayabaskar.
What is criminal about the decision to give such a hefty increment is that this is public money. And Tamil Nadu's financial position is in a mess, reeling under a debt of over Rs 2.35 lakh crore. When Jayalalithaa returned to power in May 2016, her first five decisions including free electricity for domestic consumers, free gold for women getting married, waiver of farm loans, set the exchequer back by Rs 8,000 crore. Add to that the closure of another 1,000 liquor shops in the last one year, the main source of revenue for the state, and you realise Tamil Nadu is living a hand to mouth existence. This kind of abysmal financial mismanagement is certain to lead the state into bankruptcy.
Thanks to the political fragility, the state has struggled to attract big ticket industrial investment, losing prestigious projects to neighbouring states in South India. That begs the question — what kind of an impressive performance have the lawmakers put in that they have given themselves such a handsome increment.
The decision without a doubt, is political. This is Palaniswamy's way of keeping everyone happy, even if it comes at the cost of the exchequer. Would the 89 MLAs of the Opposition DMK oppose the hike and refuse to accept the increased emoluments? Because this hike is an indirect way to keep the Opposition happy so that the fight with the treasury benches, at best, is a friendly duel.
But then Tamil Nadu is not the odd one out when it comes to greed shown by the political class. In fact, the Tamil Nadu MLA may be unhappy to know that he/she will still be drawing a salary less than his counterparts in Telangana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
Last year, Telangana MLAs became the country's highest-paid state lawmakers when the Assembly approved a bill that hiked their gross monthly salary by a whopping 163 percent to Rs 2.5 lakh. Chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's salary went up from Rs 2.44 lakh to Rs 4.21 lakh, a hike of 72 percent. Ministers in Telangana get Rs 4 lakh as salary. KCR's argument was this will help the state remain free of corruption.
The Telangana decision in March 2016 was as insensitive because according to data from National Crime Records Bureau, 1,358 farmers had killed themselves in the new state in 2015, the second highest in the country after Maharashtra. The KCR regime too, like the EPS government now, thought nothing of the vulgarity in splurging on itself.
In fact, when the insensitivity of the move was pointed out to a senior Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader, she said it is not necessary for every decision to be contrasted with the plight of farmers. Empathy committed suicide that very moment.
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