On January 10, as residents of Tamil Nadu struggled to go about their daily activities thanks to the bus strike called for the Transport Union, the state government showed that it had completely different priorities.
That day, Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy tabled a bill in the Assembly that nearly doubled the salary of legislators in the state. Their monthly remuneration climbed up to Rs 1.10 lakh from the existing Rs 55,000.
The timing could not have been worse. This additional expenditure of Rs 25,00,00,000 to the exchequer was announced even as the state government told transport unions that it didnâ€™t have enough money to cover the 0.13% difference in wage as demanded by them.
If the MLAs thought their apathetic attitude had flown under the radar, they were wrong.
In a letter to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan on January 24, BJP MP Varun Gandhi has raised the issue of economic disparity in the country and measures that must be taken by elected representatives. The MP said that leaders must strive to make each generation more equal than the one before, and talks about the massive increase in salaries of MPs and MLAs across the country.
Specifically referring to Tamil Nadu, he says, "As recently as January 2018, while Tamil Nadu is still reeling under a long-standing agrarian crisis from 2017 when farmers protested in Jantar Mantar, holding human skulls in their hand, the Legislative Assembly doubled their salary, with retrospective effect from July 2017. Over the last decade, salaries of Parliamentarians have increased by 400%, a raise that is unlikely even in the profit-driven private sector â€¦ Have we really earned this massive increment?"
His letter goes on to add that in 1952, the Indian Cabinet had taken a unanimous decision not to avail their salaries for three months in light of the countryâ€™s economic situation at that time. He also cited the example of the Madras Assemblyâ€™s unanimous adoption of a motion, moved by VI Munuswamy Pillai in 1949, to impose a voluntary cut of Rs 5 per day in recognition of suffering farmers.
"It is imperative for us to now create an external body â€“ a statutory one, independent of us members, to preside over our compensation package. But if we wish to self-regulate, we must empathetically do so and relinquish salaries entirely, thereby reducing the burden on the system," he said.
This is not the first time Varun Gandhi has raised the need for a body to regulate the salaries of elected representatives.