Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will continue to be paid around Rs8,500 a month, and his ministerial colleagues Rs7,500 each—the lowest among Indian lawmakers—after the state’s finance minister recently rejected a proposal to raise their salaries.
“I am aware that some of our ministers face serious cash crunch towards the end of every month, but that’s alright,” said Asim Dasgupta, adding that it was his “Leftist pride” that prevented him from giving his nod to the proposal for the pay hike. “A lot of people in this state earn less than Rs7,500 a month. So I felt our ministers, too, should be able to cope.”
Dasgupta, however, agreed to raise the pay of state legislators from Rs8,000 to Rs15,000 a month. Since they do not receive ministerial perquisites such as state-provided cars, telephones and newspapers, their demand for a pay hike was justified, he said.
Low pay: West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta said it was his ‘Leftist pride’ that prevented him from aproving the salary hike. He, however, agreed to raise the pay of state legislators. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Lawmakers in other Left-ruled states, such as Tripura and Kerala, earn significantly more than those in West Bengal. In Kerala, for instance, ministers earn Rs27,500 each, according to the state’s transport minister Jose Thettayil. Even a legislator in Kerala earns Rs25,000 a month, and receives a fuel coupon of at least Rs1 lakh a year, he added.
In states neighbouring West Bengal, such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, which are considered economically backward, lawmakers earn a lot more than those in West Bengal. Jharkhand pays its legislators around Rs39,000 a month, and Chhattisgarh, Rs23,000, according to the website of these states.
In states that have traditionally paid their lawmakers well, such as Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, legislators earn Rs40,000-50,000 a month.
To top this all, West Bengal’s lawmakers who belong to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, are required to donate their salary to the party, according to Asok Bhattacharya, the state’s minister for urban development and a CPM leader.
“In return, the party gives us a wage, which is typically around Rs5,000 a month,” he said, adding that this practice started in the late 1970s, soon after the CPM-led Left Front came to power in West Bengal in 1977.
Many ministers in West Bengal said privately that making ends meet would have been difficult if their spouses didn’t have full-time jobs.
“It’s difficult to cope with a pay as little as this,” said Abdur Rezzak Mollah, minister for land and land reforms. “I somehow manage thanks to the income from the 10 acres of land that I inherited from my father.”
Though Dasgupta vetoed the proposal to raise the pay of West Bengal’s ministers, the state’s expenditure due to salaries and pensions is high compared with its tax revenues.
In the current fiscal, outgo on salaries and pensions is projected to be Rs29,466 crore, marginally lower than the year ended 31 March; yet it accounts for 46% of the state’s revenue expenditure.
Revenue deficit—or the gap between expenditure on heads such as salary, pension and interest and revenue receipts—is estimated to be at 3.5% of the state domestic product in the current year, or Rs16,819 crore. Fiscal deficit of the state, which accounts for capital expenditure as well, is bigger at Rs22,842 crore, or about 4.7% of the domestic product.
The state has been borrowing to meet the gap between its income and expenditure, and in the current year, Dasgupta expects the state’s debt to expand to Rs192,500 crore from Rs164,832 crore in 2009-10.
The state’s expenditure on account of interest in fiscal 2010-11 is projected to be at Rs14,018 crore, up from Rs13,168 crore last year.