INDIA: The Maharashtra Government increased the MLAs local area development fund (MLA LAD) to Rs 5 crore from earlier Rs 4 crore, which entails an additional burden of Rs.400 crore, in an ongoing budget session of the state legislature in Mumbai, even as the state is reeling under the highest ever debt burden of Rs 6.49 lakh crore.
The Member of Legislative Assembly Local Area Development (MLA LAD) is a scheme that enables each MLA/MLC to undertake small developmental works in their constituency. Simultaneously the Government also hiked the monthly remuneration of the legislators’ assistants up to Rs 30,000 (from earlier Rs 25000) and that of their drivers up to Rs 20,000 (from earlier Rs 15,000).
The announcement about the hike in the MLAs fund made by Deputy Chief Ajit Pawar brought a smile to the faces of the legislators across the party lines. However, the data related to the amount spent from this fund is hardly available with the state planning department or the legislature secretariat. Usually, one is asked to approach the district planning officer (DPO) to get the information, and after persistent efforts, incomplete information is provided by the DPO. Most RTI activists feel that either the state planning department or the legislature secretariat should come out with a white paper giving details of the amount spent and the work undertaken every year.
The MVA Govt has increased the MLA LAD every year since it came to power in 2019. The fund that was Rs 2 crore was increased to Rs 3 crore in 2020. But it wasn’t implemented due to the financial constraints posed by Covid-19. The fund was then further hiked to Rs 4 crore in 2021. There are 288 MLAs and 87 MLCs in the state legislature.
Salary and pension
There have been demands also to increase the pension to the MLAs/MLCs. However, the request was not acceded to. While the MLAs/MLCs get a monthly salary of about Rs 2.40 lakh, including dearness allowance and other payments, the pension is paid to them after five years terms (after six years to the legislative council members) is also sizable. Upon completing five years, they are entitled to a monthly pension of Rs 50,000/-. Besides, Rs 2000 per year for additional years served are added. If the MLA passes away, the next of the kin receive a pension of Rs 40,000 per month.
With most of the MLAs repeating their terms, the pension amount goes on swelling. Today, Maharashtra Government spends Rs 6 crore per month to pay pension to 812 ex-legislators ( 668 MLAs/144 MLCs) and 503 family members of the late legislators. Some of those drawing higher pensions include ex-MLAs-Madhukarrao Pichad (Rs 1,10 lakh), Suresh Jain (Rs 1,08,000), Vijaysinh Mohite Patil (Rs 1,02000), and Eknath Khadse (Rs one lakh).
However, as per the RTI Human Rights Activists Association, usually, the pension amount is revised based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), but in the case of legislators, no such criteria are applicable, and the pension is revised as per their wish, regardless of the burden on the state exchequer. The amount of the assistance, which was Rs 250 per month in 1977 when the scheme was started, has now reached Rs 50,000/- per month.
The employees in Government and other sectors usually retire at the age of 58. Then why should the legislators be considered “retired” just after 05 years or after their tenure ends? The Association has asked. Under different schemes, including Sanjay Gandhi Yojana and Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, monthly pension payable is not more than Rs 1000/- and lakhs of families survive on this meager amount.
Also, to get the pension under the scheme applicable to the needy, the beneficiary’s annual income should be below Rs 21,000/-, their children should be of 18 years of age and above, and the age of the beneficiary should be below 65 years. However, no such conditions apply to legislators to become eligible for the pension. The pension amount under the Government schemes has been increased by 17 percent, whereas the pension for Maharashtra legislators has risen by 200 percent in the last 45 years.
However, speaking to the Transcontinental Times, former Shiv Sena MLA from Dharavi constituency of Mumbai Baburao Mane, justified the pension after five years to the MLAs.
He said that the election was a dicey business. If an MLA cannot repeat his term (if he is not re-elected), they cannot go anywhere. Ex-MLA cannot take up any employment. Whatever vocation he pursues, he may or may not be able to earn enough money. Besides, he must maintain his office under his position. All the legislators do not amass wealth by available means in their tenure. The pension paid to ex-MLAs is like a provident fund for them.
In the meanwhile, the Government, which has presented a Rs 24,353 crore deficit (estimated revenue receipts-Rs 403427 crores and revenue expenditure-Rs 427780 crores) budget for 2022-2023, is likely to see the hike in deficit up to Rs 30,725 crore by March-end because, besides developmental work, the Government is also required to spend Rs 48263 crore this year to service the debt of Rs 6.49 lakh crore, which is one of the highest for any state in the country.
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