Why personal staff of ministers are a big drain on Kerala's coffers

Thiruvananthapuram: For years political parties in Kerala have been humouring their functionaries at various levels by appointing at least some of them as personal staff of ministers. Every minister has about two dozen on the rolls with each drawing a handsome salary. This spoils system has been such a drain on the coffers as they are eligible for pension after serving a minister for just two years!

The government employees have to put in a minimum of 10 years of service to avail pension. The members of welfare fund boards are entitled to get a pension after 60 years of age. But those appointed as personal staff of the chief minister, ministers, opposition leader and chief whip on the basis of political interests and personal interest get pension the very next month after their retirement from service! Luckily, many other states in the country are yet to ape this unique Kerala model.

At least Rs 8 crore is drawn from the Kerala exchequer every year on account of pension to former personal staff of ministers. At least five times this amount is incurred every year as salary and travel expenses for the personal staff who are currently on the rolls of a state minister.

At present 1,250 personal staff are availing pension from the government exchequer. They are also eligible to receive other allowances including medical insurance.

The ruse for maximum patronage

Since a member of the personal staff is entitled to receive a pension after two years, each minister appoints personal staff for the first two years of the five-year government tenure and a second set of staff for another two years. By way of this, two persons are appointed in a single post within five years making them all eligible for pension. 

The government claims that the number of personal staff has been reduced from 30 to 25, but by appointing two persons in the same post alternatively the number of personal staff has actually been doubled.

Young pensioners

If an 18-year-old person gets into the personal staff, he can retire at 20 and receive pension till death! Moreover, during each revision, the pension amount is increased.

Rs 3,550 is the minimum pension for former members of personal staff. Those who have served for two-and-a-half years draw this amount whole life. Moreover, such ex-personal staff are eligible for 7% Dearness Allowance and gratuity.

The minimum pension which was Rs 2,400 was increased to Rs 3,550 during the last revision. The revised pay and pension recommended by the 11th Pay Revision Commission was sanctioned for the personal staff by issuing an order immediately. 

Those having 30 years of service are entitled to receive the full pension. Rs 83,400 is the maximum pension amount that a former personal aide who held the rank equivalent to a government employee. To be eligible for this grand monthly payout one needs to work for 30 years as part of the ministerial staff. 

A person who worked as a personal staff of different chief ministers and opposition leaders can complete 30 years of service. Such a committed aide not only gets a full pension on retirement but also need not retire like other government staff at 56 years of age. One can continue till the government remains in office.

The personal staff get pension commensurate with the government employee of similar rank. Even though some personal staff receive pension from the government, they work at party offices and the residences of the leaders.

Family pension too

Under the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) if a government employee dies after retirement there is no family pension. However, the dependents of a former personal staff is entitled to family pension in such a case. 

Rs 1.25 lakh pay for CM's aides  

The salary of the personal staff of the chief minister was raised to Rs 1.25 lakh by the previous Pinarayi Vijayan Government (2016-21).

Though the Kerala chief minister is entitled to appoint 30 people as personal staff as per the rules, a decision was taken during the previous Pinarayi Vijayan Government’s tenure to reduce the number to 25. However, at the fag end of the tenure, the rule was amended and the Cabinet allowed the chief minister to appoint up to 37 persons in his personal staff. 

Seven more persons were appointed to the personal staff of the CM Pinarayi Vijayan as his second government was formed in May 2021. They have been appointed as press advisor, press secretary, political secretary, clerk, office assistant, computer assistant and driver. Even the rule was then amended for granting pension for them at the time of retirement. 

Thus the Pinarayi government has laid the ground for the appointment of 37 staff in CM's retinue by all future governments.

30 allowed for ministers

Ministers, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Opposition Leader and the Chief Whip can appoint 30 persons to the personal staff. The allotted posts are: private secretary 1, additional private secretary 3, assistant private secretary  3, personal assistant 1, clerk 2, assistant 1, confidential assistant 2, typist 2, chauffeur/peon/cook 13.

The LDF decision is to post only 27 people as personal staff of ministers. There is also a provision for posting one of the additional private secretaries, two among assistant private secretaries and section officers from government service on deputation.

Under-staffed governor, but...  

Even though the Kerala governor has only four members in his personnel staff, the official paraphernalia of Raj Bhavan is huge and has high-ranking officials. 

The governor’s secretary is an Indian Police Service officer. Other functionaries include two ADCs (aides-de-camp) from the all-India service, a controller in the Rs 60,900-1,03,600 pay scale, two deputy secretaries with salary of over Rs 1 lakh, two undersecretaries with a salary of Rs 90,000 each, a private secretary, a Public Relations Officer, an additional private secretary, a personal assistant (PA), an additional PA, one higher-grade section officer, one tour superintendent, 12 assistants, four typists, two confidential assistants, 22 office attendants, two dafedars, one binder, two motorcycle despatch riders, one tailor, two cooks, two washermen, a supervisor for them, one carpenter, 12 gardeners, 5 laskars and 4 waiters.

Besides, there are six staff, including a medical  officer, from the health department

The state government has set aside  Rs 10.83 crore for Raj Bhavan in the current budget. It has earmarked Rs 42 lakh annually for the governor’s salary and Rs 25 lakh for other expenses.

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