State Must Pay its Representatives Well to Keep Both Politics and Politicians Clean
Politics is an expensive proposition. Good governance and pragmatic politics come with a hefty price tag. Last Friday, when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal got Delhi MLAs a 400 per cent salary hike, he made governance a tad costly. The ostensibly exorbitant emoluments, however, means just an addition of `15 crore to the state’s annual budget of `36,776 crore. Post the increase, Delhi’s lawmakers have become the second highest paid legislators in the country. According to the new legislation, the monthly pay of Delhi MLAs will go up to `2.10 lakh, which includes a basic salary of `50,000, a constituency allowance of `50,000, conveyance allowance of `30,000, communication allowance of up to `10,000 and a secretarial allowance of `70,000. The demand for increasing the salaries and allowances for MPs is still pending in the House. A vocal section of opinion-makers also feel that the Indian president, Prime Minister, and chief ministers deserve better pay packets. Contrary to perception, not even one rupee out of `1,000 spent on the salaries of all state and Central government employees goes to pay our MPs and MLAs.
On the face of it, Delhi MLAs have got away with a fortune at the cost of the aam aadmi, who the ruling party claims to represent. But the question arises whether Indian lawmakers should be paid handsomely to minimise corruption and provide both clean politics and governance? Keeping in view the nature of their political obligations, the compensation Members of Parliament and state Assemblies get is monochromatically measly compared to the disunited colours of their responsibilities. They deserve an increase in perquisites and salaries, so that they can be insulated from the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists.
Unlike in the West and other democracies, Indian politics is the most expensive vocation for its elected stakeholders. The cost of doing public service itself is quite prohibitive. Our MPs and MLAs are expected to meet hundreds of visitors who land up at their doorstep without appointments. Each one has to be properly attended to if the legislator has to win the election again. The size of the electorate and the constituency is so huge that a politician has to spend the ransom for a king on nurturing his career by opening local offices, hiring handlers and travelling extensively on a regular basis. They are expected to offer gifts at childbirths, weddings and social and religious ceremonies. Our MPs and MLAs are also forced to write numerous letters and make innumerable phone calls to various officials to resolve even minor issues plaguing their constituents such as the payment of pensions, repairing roads and seeking police help among others. Finally, after the end of the term, they have to fight an election and spend huge amounts all over again. No such activity is mandatory for any lawmaker in any other country.
Frankly speaking, Indian politics has been corrupted because our civil servants and politicians are not paid reasonable salaries that commensurate with the prevalent standard of living. Since a minister or a secretary in a state or at the Centre has the power to give the nod on matters, which can help an entrepreneur make millions, they have to be insulated from seeking rewards from the beneficiaries. There was a time when a joint secretary couldn’t even offer a cup of coffee to corporate Caesars like Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani, let alone the middle-level executives who would visit their offices to get pending issues expedited. Undoubtedly, MPs and MLAs get subsidised housing, medical facilities and other freebies. However, all these put together comes to much less than the salaries paid to business managers who come to them seeking favourable decisions. The average take-home salary of a mid-cap company executive in India is over `5o lakh a year, while a secretary to the Government of India earns just about `18 lakh. An MP may cost the exchequer more than `1 crore annually, but he deals with an electorate of over 1.5 million people occupying over 50 sq km on an average.
But the public protest against any increase in the monetary benefits to legislators appears to be a bit misplaced, considering the amount of money lawmakers and heads of government of other countries get. For example:
• Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s annual salary is $1,700,000 (`12 crore), which is more than 30 times an average Singaporean earns. Till 2012, he was getting paid $2,856,930 (`18 crore), which was reduced by 28 per cent following public protests.
• The annual pay of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who heads the government of Hong Kong, is $530,000 (`4 crore)—nearly 12 times more than that of an average citizen and more than 27 times the salary of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who earns just $19,000 per annum.
• US President Barack Obama’s annual salary is $400,000 (`2.65 crore), nearly eight times that of an average American.
• Narendra Modi receives an annual salary of $19,000 (`16 lakh) and President Pranab Mukherjee’s pay is around $24,000 (`18 lakh).
It is evident that contrary to public perception, Indian political leaders are worse off when in office. None of the CMs who handle budgets worth billion of dollars make more than `15 lakh a year. There is no doubt that they enjoy luxurious lifestyles at public cost, which, however, do not enhance their personal wealth. Moreover, over 70 per cent of MPs and MLAs are poor or belong to the middle class, and need enough money to perform their political obligations. According to various studies, there is a direct relationship between the index of political corruption and the official earnings of Indian politicians. Surprisingly, over 70 per cent of corruption cases are against relatively richer politicians as they control the decision-making process. Over 30 per cent of MPs still use official bus transport to attend sessions. In Delhi, a substantial number of AAP MLAs belong to the lower middle class and have entered politics for the first time. By raising their salaries, Kejriwal has emphasised the principle that the state must pay its representatives well to keep both politics and politicians clean for the sake of the dignity of its people.
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