No, MLAs in Delhi do not get the lowest salary in the country, as was claimed
Soon after the Delhi Assembly passed a Bill hiking the salary of MLAs from Rs. 54,000 to Rs. 90,000 per month this week, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party claimed that it was still the lowest in the country
Members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly are not the lowest paid MLAs in the country after all. Soon after the Delhi Assembly passed a Bill hiking the ‘salary’ of MLAs from Rs. 54,000 to Rs. 90,000 per month this week, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party claimed that it was still the lowest in the country.
PRS Legislative Research, however, puts the salary of MLAs in Kerala as the lowest. With salary and allowances, an MLA in Kerala draws less than Rs. 50,000 a month, PRS figures show while flagging several other states like Tripura (48k), Sikkim (52k), Mizoram (65k) and Rajasthan (55k) paying MLAs substantially lower salary and allowances.
The two hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, however, pay some of the highest salary to MLAs. While Himachal Pradesh pays Rs 1.85 lakh per month, Uttarakhand pays only marginally less at Rs 1.70 lakh per month to the MLAs. The figures do not include perks.
While MLAs in Telangana are paid the highest salary and allowances at Rs 2.5 lakh a month, it is closely followed by Madhya Pradesh (2.1 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (1.87 lakh), Bihar (1.65 lakh), Maharashtra (1.60 lakh), Karnataka (1.40 lakh) and Gujarat (1.25 lakh) according to figures in the public domain.
What is striking, however, is the lack of transparency. There is no single source where the salary and perks in each state can be compared. Different sources provide different figures with one putting salary and allowances of an MLA in Delhi at Rs. 2.1 lakh. The source appears to have assumed that a proposal to that effect moved by the Delhi Govt in 2015 had been passed. However, the Centre had turned it down then.
The Constitution does empower the Parliament and the state assemblies to determine salary and allowances of MPs and MLAs by passing the requisite Bill. However, the Constitution is silent on how to fix them. There is no distinction made on the basis of the size of the state or constituencies or the number of constituents they represent. With no yardstick to benchmark their work(Delhi Assembly for example met on just eight days in a year in 2020 and 2021 while Kerala Assembly has been meeting for 50 days on an average over the last 10 years).
No mechanism has been evolved to find an alternative method to end the obvious conflict of interest. Countries like UK, Australia and New Zealand have independent authorities to determine pay and perks of legislators while Canada adjusts their salary to the consumer price index annually. In France they are indexed to the highest and the lowest salary paid to civil servants.
While Indian MPs and MLAs are provided housing, British MPs are provided an allowance to rent a house but there is no such allowance in the US. These countries however provide office space which Indian MPs and MLAs usually don’t get. The allowance for hiring legislative assistants is also significantly lower in India.
Unlike in several other countries, legislators in India are not paid adequately to hire research and office assistants and to maintain their own offices. Another lasting grouse of Indian legislators has been the number of constituents they are forced to entertain. Serving tea to visitors alone eats up much of the salary and allowances—is an old and familiar complaint.
In any case, the salary and allowances of MPs and MLAs does require a second look.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)