Despite the debt mounting on the state exchequer and the concern around state’s overall growth, the Democratic Front government is keen to accord priority to the fiscal comfort of legislators. A recent decision by the government will enable spouses of ministers and other members of the legislature to share in their travel allowance. Also, the basis to reimburse travel claims will now be AC II tier railway fare. Earlier, it used to be first class (non-AC), which has now been scrapped.
The 32 reimbursable single journeys permissible to legislators annually will now be extended to their spouses. However, the total number of trips allowed will not be increased. Instead, a trip by a couple will be considered as two single journeys. While the government will not pay them airfares - as any travel expense claims will be considered only on the basis of AC-II tier railway fares - if a legislator travels by a state transport bus or a cheaper railway class, he will still be compensated as much as the cost of II tier tickets.
Rs 3.33 crore cost
Until now, claims for travel by air, steamer or state transport buses were reimbursed on the basis of the first class railway ticket fare. The fare for first class would be Rs 193 for the first five kms. The same for AC II tier is Rs 519. As such, the decision is set to accrue huge benefits to elected representatives.
And of course, it will cost the state more. A rough estimate pegs the additional expenses the government will have to bear after the amendment at Rs 3.33 crore.
While introducing the amendments in four acts that govern salaries, pensions and allowances of the legislators, ministers and presiding officers of the state, Harshwardhan Patil, minister for parliamentary affairs, stated that the government’s decision was in accordance with the current inflationary trend. The 32 single trips permissible to members would be considered as double if undertaken with the spouse.
A minister who did not wish to come on record said the decision was in keeping with the times, with air travel becoming the convenient and competent mode of travel. Leader of Opposition Eknath Khadse said the government has not increased the number of air trips, which remains 32.
The trips taken by the spouse will be deducted from the total 32 journeys allowed to a minister or legislator. And since the first class does not exist these days, the reimbursement claims will be considered on the basis of AC-II tier, he said. Shiv Sena group leader Subhash Desai said that he was not present in the house when the related bill was introduced. “I need to have a look at it before commenting on it,” he said.
>> Good governance would demand public debate and sanctions over the issue. If company directors need to take shareholder’s approval, why not government officials from taxpayers?
Gopinath Mavinkurve, Borivli resident
>> Having the upper hand does not mean that you need to devastate the country's money just so you are excused for your tickets.
Khubi Desai, resident of LIC colony in Borivli
>> The problem is that all this is done with the taxpayers’ money. We work hard and these politicians and their wives enjoy the travel allowances. I don’t understand the concept of reimbursing travel fare for ministers. I feel they can afford to bear their ticket costs with their own money. Why waste our money?
Sachin Parkar, Chembur resident
The number of single trips alloted to each MLA