Chennai: Five months after taking over as Chief Minister, E Palaniswami has doubled the salary of the Tamil Nadu's 234 legislators. The hike - under which the legislators will get more than Rs 1 lakh from the current Rs 55,000 -- comes amid a stark agrarian crisis in the state. Over the last six months at least 19 farmers have committed suicide, many of the families have been holding protests in Delhi's Jantar Mantar for months.
The legislators' pension, too, has been increased from Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 and the funds allotted to them for the development of their constituencies has also been pushed up from 2 crore to 2.5 crore.
While Mr Palaniswami said the hike had come in response to a demand by "a few Congress MLAs", the DMK has slammed the move. Senior party leader TRB Raja said, "I'll spend the hike in my constituency. This is AIADMK' s strategy to keep their flock together". Congress, a DMK ally, has eight legislators in the 234-member House.
The Congress pointed out that the salary hike comes after a decade. "MLA salary is the lowest in Tamil Nadu compared to other states," said Congress leader S Vijayadharini. But she admitted that the timing was wrong. "The farmers' issue should be our top priority. Farm loans ought to be waived for all farmers, even if they own more than five acres," she added.
Even with the hike, the Tamil Nadu legislators will get half of what their counterparts get in neighbouring Telangana -- Rs 2 lakh. The hike in Telangana in 2014 had also come amid a spate of suicide by the state's farmers.
Around 40 farmers from Tamil Nadu have been on protest in Delhi, demanding loan waivers. A number of children -- the youngest being three years old -- are carrying the ashes of their fathers, who have committed suicide. The families say the men had been struggling with repeated crop failure and mounting loans.