In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on Friday invalidated the salaries and salary-based perks being paid to elected local officials under laws that have been promulgated locally.
A five-member constitutional bench chaired by Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana issued the verdict, invalidating laws promulgated in this connection in all seven provinces except Province 1. Deepak Kumar Karki, Kedar Prasad Chalise, Meera Khadka and Hari Krishna Karki are the other justices on the constitutional bench.
The verdict affects the billions being distributed to local elected officials in salary and allowances under the laws that were promulgated after the country turned into a federal republic.
Chief and deputy chiefs of 77 district coordination committees and the chiefs, deputy chiefs and office bearers of ward committees of the 753 local governments have been taking home salaries under laws that they themselves enacted. There are a total of 293 municipalities including six metropolitan cities and 11 sub-metropolitan cities in the country, and 460 rural municipalities. These local governments comprise a total 6,743 wards.
While the chiefs and deputy chiefs of district coordination committees have been drawing a minimum of Rs 40,500 and Rs 35,500 a month in salary respectively, municipality chiefs and deputy chiefs have been drawing above Rs 35,000 and 30,000 monthly. The monthly salaries of the mayors and deputy mayors of metropolitan and sub-metropolitan cities are higher.
Similarly, the chiefs and deputy chiefs of rural municipalities draw on average Rs 25,000 and Rs 22,000 a month in salary, respectively. Likewise, the ward chairperson and the four members in each ward have been receiving Rs 22,000 and Rs 6,000 each monthly in salary. The salaries are in addition to meeting allowances and other perks and benefits.
Although elected officials in the 137 local government units in Province 1 have not received any salary, they have been receiving huge amounts in meeting allowances, perks and benefits. Officials at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration say the amount these officials take as meeting allowance and perks equals that of officials who have been receiving a monthly salary.
In its verdict, the apex court said the salary and salary-based allowances being received by the local-level officials are nothing short of unconstitutional and pronounced them null and void effective from Friday itself. The text of the verdict has not yet been made public.
In handing down its verdict, the constitutional bench was responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Lokendra Bahadur Oli. He has challenged the relevant laws promulgated by the provincial assemblies of Province 2 and other provinces. The petitioner argued that the salaries were against the spirit of the constitution.
Oli has also said that in paying themselves the salaries and salary-based allowances, the local-level officials are going back on the commitment they made during the local elections. The constitution states that elected representatives cannot receive any salary for carrying out their political duties.
According to Article 220(8) of the constitution, the conduct of the District Assembly, the facilities of Members of the District Coordination Committee and other matters relating to the District Assembly shall be as provided for in province law.
Similarly, Article 227 states that other matters relating to the conduct of business of a Village Assembly or Municipal Assembly, the rules of procedure of meetings, formation of committees, conditions under which the office of member falls vacant, the facilities receivable by members of the Village Assembly and Municipal Assembly and employees and officers of the Village Body and Municipality shall be as provided for in province law.
The apex court has annulled the phrase “monthly salary” from the respective schedules of the provincial laws. The provincial laws have made provisions for monthly salary and allowances for elected officials for carrying out their political duties.
Some 20 years ago also, the apex court had invalidated a law promulgated for providing pensions to lawmakers. That was in response to a writ petition filed by anti-corruption activist Bharat Jangam. The verdict saved the state treasury billions of rupees that would have gone to politicians merely for carrying out their political roles.
Senior advocates Govinda Gautam, Sher Bahadur KC, Chandra Kanta Gyawali, Gopal Krishna Ghimire and advocates Sudip Paudel, Pankaj Kumar Karna, Om Prakash Aryal, RC Gautam, Shiva Kumar Yadav, Gyanendra Raj Aran, Birendra Gautam and Laxmi Thapa had pleaded in favour of the PIL.