Shimla-The Himachal Pradesh Government is facing flak over hiking the travel allowance from Rs 2.50 lakh to Rs, 4 lakhs during the winter session of the state assembly. The allowance was hiked by Rs 1.50 lakh or by 166 percent. This would put an additional financial burden of Rs. 2.20 crores on the state.

The ministers, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the legislators and former legislators along with families can spend this amount to travel by air, train or taxi outside the state.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur introduced the three Bills – the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Himachal Pradesh) Amendment Bill, 2019, the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly’s and Deputy Speaker’s Salaries (Amendment) Bill, 2019, and the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly (Allowances and Pension of Members) Amendment Bill, 2019.

There was no opposition except from Rakesh Singha, MLA, Theog constituency. Rakesh Singha opposed the decision arguing that it would send a wrong message to the people.  All others including the opposition justified the hike and termed it the need of the hour. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur also justified that cost of travel has increased and the MLAs and Ministers need more finances to undertake travel for public works.

However, when during previous sessions, the government was asked to take decision on restoring old pension policy for the employees, the house was told that the government is under huge financial burden of Rs. 50,000 crore and lacks funds for the pension. The Chief Minister said the income of the state is far less than the expenditure made on the salaries of the government employees.  

The public asked if it’s true that the government is not in a position to restore old pension policy, then why it hiked its own allowances and continued with a pension scheme for ex-MLAs and ex-Ministers. Why only the employees and the public should bear the brunt of fund-crunch and not the politicians, asked the public.

The Pensioners Welfare Association condemned the hike in allowances saying Bhartiya Janata Party had promised to do something about pensioners before elections. The Association said that this is why it had supported and voted for the party. The Chief Minister had also given similar assurance last year. But now the government did not keep its word. The Chief Minister had assured the pensioners in October 2018 that he had written to the Finance Secretary regarding restoring old pension policy and the government was seriously considering it.

Then the hopes of the over 12,000 outsourced workers were dashed to the ground when the Chief Minister bluntly announced that the government is not going to form any new policy for regularisation and will continue to hire on the outsourcing basis.

Similarly, the unemployed youth of the state was also agitated and argued that despite knowing that the state is under the financial burden and over 10 lakh youth were unemployed in the state, it gave preference to hiking allowances of MLAs and Ministers.

As a protest, Youth organization and some Dalit leaders even collected Rs 1 coins as a donation from people in the name of “poor MLAs and Ministers of the state.”

They argued that from the affidavits filed before the assembly elections, it was evident that during the tenure of five years, assets of MLAs and Ministers grow by 150 to 200 percent.

This move was termed as pathetic, shameless and highly selfish in a time when the state is already under financial burden.

Earlier, the hike in travel emoluments of the legislators was made on April 10, 2015, and in salary on April 7, 2016.

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