Voices of protest have started sounding louder in Himachal Pradesh after the debt-ridden state government decided to hike the annual free travel allowance for its legislators from ₹2.5 lakh to ₹4 lakh.
Reeling under a huge financial crunch of over ₹5,000 crore, the Himachal government that is finding it hard even to pay salaries to its employees, tabled a Bill to increase the reimbursement amount of free transit facility for the MLAs along with their family members in the state Vidhan Sabha session on Saturday.
The Bill was passed by the House with voice vote despite a strong objection raised by only one Theog MLA Rakesh Singha. Giving the reference of poor financial position of the state, the CPI (M) leader Singha demanded withdrawal of the Bill.
Interestingly, the decision of the Jai Ram Thakur led Himachal government virtually came under attack with former state Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal putting a question mark on the Bill passed at such a time when the state is going through a major economic crisis.
Dhumal even felt that the government should have avoided such a Bill advocating formation of a “Pay Commission” to decide and fix the pay and perks for the legislators on the pattern of a Commission, meant for the government employees. Even Vidhan Sabha Speaker and senior BJP leader Rajiv Bindal is of the opinion that there should be some rules for regular hike in the salary and other allowances of the legislators.
With the passing of bills, reimbursement amount of free transit facility of legislators and their family members has increased from existing ₹2.50 lakh to ₹4 lakh while that of former MLAs has been increased from ₹1.25 lakh to ₹2 lakh.
Lodging unique protest against the unprecedented hike in free travel allowance for the legislators, members of certain social organisations, unemployed youth and farmers have launched ‘Alms Collection Campaign’ in Shimla. The youth have been visiting different places and begging ₹1 coin so that the sum generated by begging could be provided to “poor legislators’ for their luxuries.
Ravi Kumar, a local leader, also visited The Ridge with a bowl asking the public to donate for MLAs. “We will submit the memorandum and give the donated money to the Governor if the amendment to the Act is not repealed in 15 days,”
As a part of the protest, one unemployed youth even ‘polished shoes’ outside the HP Civil Secretariat building in Shimla on Monday, to generate funds for the thick-skinned legislators.
Dr OP Bhuraita, coordinator for the state election watch, an NGO, “The 166 per cent hike in allowances of ministers and MLAs is a cruel joke with the over 10-lakh unemployed youth of Himachal.”
“If one goes by the affidavit submitted to the Election Commission of India, the assets of each MLA grows on an average by 150 per cent to 200 per cent after every five years,” Dr Bhuraita said adding that the legislators also get life-long pension.
Justifying the hike, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said that for taxi only 10 per cent of total amount would be reimbursed and that too on producing the bills. The CM claimed that first legislators would have to spend from their pockets and later they would have to produce bills for reimbursement. He, however, said that 90 per cent of legislators have not availed this facility so far.