Himachal MLAs give themselves travel allowances hike

Shimla: Despite a huge loan liability, the Himachal Pradesh assembly on Saturday passed a bill increasing the annual allowances of legislators by Rs 1.50 lakh amidst protests by the lone member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Rakesh Singha.

The funds-starved government is already reeling under an ever-swelling wage bill.

The proposed hike would put an additional annual burden of Rs 1.99 crore on the state exchequer.

Singha, the lone CPI-M member, opposed the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly (Allowances and Pension of Members) Amendment Bill, 2019, saying the state is facing a critical financial crisis.

‘If the bill is passed, it will send a wrong signal. I will request the Chief Minister to withdraw the bill,’ he said.

The hike in travel allowances by air, train or taxi outside the state by the ministers, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the legislators and former legislators along with families, is from Rs 2.50 lakh to Rs 4 lakh.

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

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, on Friday.

The bills were passed with the thumping of tables both by the treasury and opposition benches.

Supporting the BJP government for bringing the bill, Congress member Sukhwinder Singh Sikhu said the salaries of the legislators should also be hiked simultaneously.

He said the handsome salary and allowances enabled the legislators to carry out their day-to-day affairs with honesty and dignity.

The enhancement of allowances has been made on the recommendation of the Members Amenities Committee of the Vidhan Sabha.

The amendment is being made to the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Himachal Pradesh) Act, 2000.

Earlier replying to a debate during the Question Hour, the Chief Minister said loans of Rs 4,812 crore were taken by the government in the past three years till March 31 this year.

He said his government took Rs 2,711 crore loans in the past two years.

The previous Congress government took a whopping Rs 18,787 crore loans during its stint from 2013-17.

Thakur said when the BJP government came to power in December 2017 the total loan liability at the government was Rs 46,385 crore.