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Gandhians protest against providing pension to MLAs Thursday, May 3, 2001
AHMEDABAD: Eighty seven-year-old Gandhian and former MLA Mahendra Desai sits under a tree just outside the Sabarmati Ashram. Braving the extreme heat, dust and roaring buses, zooming vehicles, Desai, much like his mentor and idol - the Mahatma - launches an indefinite hunger strike on May 1 - Happy Birthday Gujarat...
Wishing Gujarat "the very best" on its 41st birthday, the octogenarian chooses the Gandhian mode - Satyagrah - to protest against a Bill pending since 1987, that proposes to give pension to all MLAs. It was Desai's agitations and hunger strike that had stalled the implementation of the Bill way back in 1987 and now that the government is showing signs of reimplementing the Bill, the 87-year-old Gandhian has revitalised his years'-old protest.
"A person who has 30 years or more period of employment with the government or other private institutions may be entitled to pension but why for these so-called public representatives who serve five years' term and barely attend the 200 days of office," says Desai.
Desai's agitation follows a notice issued by Gujarat High Court to the government asking why a Bill (regarding the pension) after having been passed is yet to be implemented. The high court's notice is in context with a petition filed by a former MLA for the implementation of the pension Bill.
"Earlier too the state government had made several attempts to approach me and get my approval, failing which the Bill had been kept at bay. But, since a fresh Bill cancelling the proposal of pension for former MLAs is required to nullify the 1987 Bill, the state government may have got the excuse it was looking for to implement this Bill," said Desai while speaking about the reason behind his move to restart an agitation that has been dormant for more than a decade now.
"In 1987, the state government had mooted this idea. They had even presented a Bill in state assembly to this effect. Needless to say that the Bill was passed within half-an-hour of it being tabled with practically no opposition," recalls Desai, who then had stalled the process single-handedly by going on a hunger-strike that lasted for 23 days.
Desai feels that such benefits like lifetime pension for a five-year term devoted to serving the people draws in "unwanted and anti-social elements" who bring a bad name to public representatives.
"Nowadays the moneyed and those with muscle power don the public representatives' garb and the ones in office are busy filling up personal coffers or even using the MLA status to further their private commercial endeavours. MLAs are meant to look after needs of the people and not use the post to mint money and draw in personal favours," said Desai.
On Tuesday Desai was also joined by the general secretary of Gujarat Karmachari Mahasang, G R Sayyed, along with 12 others. "Since the past six months, the state government has stopped giving allowance (on an average Rs 275 per month) to widows, women deserted by their husbands and senior citizens who are unable to eke out a living for themselves. Instead of reviving this pro-people schemes, the state government looks to appease MLAs for whom the pension (Rs 2,500) is either a status symbol or a way to show off their tryst with power," said Sayyed who along with 11 others joined Desai for a token day-long hunger strike.
Chunibhai Vaidya, another Gandhian lending his support to Desai's cause, says that money buys party tickets even for the most undeserving politicians. Vaid says, "None of the MLAs who vie for pension lead a hand-to-mouth existence. Rather they are so used to tabling proposals and turning them into law that they have forgotten about the more needy people of the state. If this money meant for MLAs' pension is diverted to the poverty-stricken masses, then I would deem it to have been put to a much better use than what is proposed by this Bill."