The Madhya Pradesh government will pay for the income tax on the salaries of serving chief ministers and the council of ministers, despite being under heavy debt and seeing its finances strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
Faced with the severe economic impact of the Covid lockdown, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan administration had earlier halted salary increments for all government employees. It had also withheld a portion of the Dearness Allowance and arrears due from the seventh Pay Commission.
However, for ministers being paid Rs 1.7 lakh per month (not excluding allowances) nothing has changed. In fact, the state has just released Rs 1.8 crore to pay for their taxes.
In addition, Rs 41.79 crore has been released for tours, hospitality and travel. The state has also increased its share in the Contributory Pension Fund Scheme for IAS, IPS and IFS officers - from 10 per cent to 14 per cent - while retaining only 10 per cent of the state's officers and employees.
Furthermore, a sum of Rs 94.85 lakh has been released for the salaries of former chief ministers and other expenses.
Inder Singh Parmar, a junior minister, reacted angrily when NDTV asked him about the tax payments, saying: I have told you. There is no such paper... we pay our taxes". However, cabinet minister Kamal Patel was more forthcoming and said "the government has done the right thing".
"(There is) nothing wrong if the government pays taxes for ministers... this is not the first time. The government always pays taxes... even during the Congress regime," he said.
Pointing out that ministers and MLAs had taken a 30 per cent salary cut in July (on a request from the Chief Minister to donate money to fight the Covid pandemic), Mr Patel added: "There is no problem. The government has done the right thing".
The Madhya Pradesh state treasure began bearing the tax burden of all ministers, as well as the parliamentary secretary, with retrospective effect from April 1, 1994.
Now the opposition, which initiated the policy, has opposed the scheme. Former minister Jitu Patwari called the practice "shameful".
"This is shameful. Even pensioners pay their taxes but politicians who claim to do social service are not paying. We condemn this," the Congress leader said.