Democracy Costs, You Know?

Elections, as they say, are the first step towards the democracy. Once elected, they may or may not deliver but the system has to take care of them. The system has to provide them everything to enable them to function. In a twin-capital state like J&K the lawmakers need to have two official houses – one each at Srinagar and Jammu besides one in their constituencies.

They are a salaried lot and last week the lawmakers hiked their salaries and their pensions too. The government had introduced a bill in this regard in March 2009 and the lawmakers finally decided to dispose it off. The Chair found it difficult to manage various amendments that were suggestive of massive hike – one even suggesting Rs 118 thousands a month, a suggestion chief minister Omar Abdullah refused. The house was adjourned for some time to enable lawmakers evolve a consensus cutting across party lines. Then they resumed and managed passage of the law. Their salaries are up by 20 percent and their pensions by 25%.

The bill underwent ‘figurative’ changes to enable a hike in chief minister’s package from Rs 45,300 to Rs 90,300, cabinet ministers from Rs 40,300 to Rs 85,000 and ministers of state, MLAs and MLCs from Rs 40,300 to Rs 80,300 per month. Speaker will get Rs 300 less than the chief minister. Besides, the cabinet ministers will get an additional Rs 3 lakh a year for no identified expenditure. The new package is applicable retrospectively from September 2009 and not January 2009 as some of the lawmakers were keen to ensure. Their last pay hike was in 2006 summer when they nearly doubled their earnings. New scales will jack-up fund requirement for lawmakers by slightly less than Rs 10 crores a year. Former members of the house will now get Rs 25,000 almost double of Rs 12500 they were getting as pension.

But pensions start once the electorate stops trusting them. Till then they will require everything from TA to DA. Kashmir Times reported (March 26, 2011) that the government spent Rs 3.89 crores on the TA/DA, airfare, fuel and petrol, medical and sumptuary allowance of 22 ministers and 8 others conferred with the status of ministers and the ministers of state since January 2009 till date. Out of this amount, the government spent Rs 1.6 crores on TA/DA and airfare, while Rs 13.33 lakhs were expended on their Medical Allowance. The expenditure incurred on their petrol/fuel included Rs 1.63 crores while an amount of Rs 52.82 lakhs were spent under the head `Sumptuary Allowance’ during the same period.

Omar’s council of ministers claimed Rs 99.37 lakhs as TA and DA in slightly less than two years. Omar’s deputy Tara Chand claimed a TA/DA of Rs 13.96 lakh which is more than the TA/DA claimed by chief minister and finance minister put together. Nawang Rigzin Jora and Sham Lal played second fiddle with a claim of Rs 10.39 lakh and Rs 10.09 lakh, respectively.

The ministers – all put together – burnt Rs 107.25 lakhs worth petrol and diesel in the same period. While chief minister’s petrol bill comes from the police – SSG to be precise, all others spend and claim. In this category Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed has wrested the No 1 position from Tara Chand by claiming highest amount of Rs 10.76 lakh on petrol and oil expenses elbowing out the deputy chief minister to second slot with Rs 10.51 lakh.

But everybody knows the ‘government’ does not drive only, it flies around as well. The state government is the proud owner of an aircraft and two choppers. The government revealed (March 18) that in last two years it cost the state Rs 9.84 crores – Rs 9,84,10,796  to be exact between 2009-10 to 2010-11 up to February 17. In 2009-10 it was Rs 4.63 crores but for 2010-11 it has gone slightly up. However, the government clarified that maximum expenditure was on account of maintenance / inspection and labour charges, which were over Rs 2 crore in 2009-10 and Rs 2.5 crore in 2010-11.

The government does spend on the upkeep of the bungalows in Srinagar and Jammu. In slightly less than 12 months of 2010-11, the expenditure on renovation and repairs of the houses devoured Rs 3.26 crores – Rs 1.38 crore in Jammu and Rs 1.88 crore in Srinagar during 2010-11 financial year, so far.

In this category it is state’s finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather who outwitted all others by spending Rs 51 lakh on his two bungalows – Rs 48.62 lakh at Srinagar and Rs 2.38 lakh at Jammu. The second slot was taken by Revenue minister Raman Bhalla who spent Rs 31.56 lakh on his two official houses. Third position was taken by an MoS Nasir Aslam Wani who booked an expenditure of Rs 24.05 lakh on his bungalows in two capital cities. This was despite chief minister’s November 2009 order that set the ceilings for repairs, renovations and expenditures on furniture of the official accommodations of his ministers.

Lawmakers including ministers are supposed to pay the rent for all these spruced up bungalows. But sometimes they ‘forget’. Information revealed by the government in the state legislature suggested 24 sitting and former lawmakers are amongst 103 defaulters of the state’s estates department. Interestingly the defaulting lawmakers have Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone included! Congress lawmaker G A Mir leads the team of defaulters with an outstanding of Rs 1,02,400.

Abdul Rahim Rather: Spent Rs 51 lakh on repairs of two official houses in 2 years

Tara Chand : Took home Rs 13.96 lakh TA in less than 2 years

Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed : Burnt petrol worth Rs 10.76 lakh in 2 years

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