More Disruptions, More Disrepute To MPs
Politics of disruptions continues, our elected representatives are least bothered about public perception, and without a thought of how much money is lost. Yet slowly voters have begun to realise that they are being taken for a ride. They elected their representatives to do something good for the country instead of walk-outs like labourers in a factory. Sooner than later they will realise that while a factory may belong to an industrialist, Parliament belongs to the people. And that is a crucial difference.
The opposition, according to reports, is likely to disrupt proceedings in the forthcoming session of Parliament, unless Narendra Modi makes a statement on the Lalit Modi case in which Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj are embroiled. It also demands that the two ladies be sent packing. The Government will not oblige, thus we are likely to witness unruly scenes, walk-outs and adjournments.
Hours will be lost. The MPs will agitate inside the House and then convey their outrage to the Press after they walk-out. And after that…some seniors will discuss strategy for the next day while others will go off—as it is they will be earning as much as they would have if they did not walk-out and let the business of the House proceed. So in a way they would be having a paid holiday.
Meanwhile, the tax-payer will have to pay more. A Parliament session costs Rs 25 lakh an hour and the whole day costs Rs 2 crore. This will have to be paid by us, the tax-payers while our elected hon’ble members will continue to get their salary of Rs.50000, daily allowance of Rs 2000 and all other perks including free air-conditioned accommodation, and many other freebies. An MP’s income is 68 per cent higher than the average national salary.
What do the MPs do when the House is adjourned? During the UPA 2, when BJP walked out, it is said the young, rich Congress MPs would discuss where to go for some lunch and fun. And they would, in their Mercedes, BMW SUVs and such like drive off to some five-star hotel. And what do those who walked out generally do. Some go home—air-conditioned accommodation provided free, free water, electricity…others sit in the canteen for them in Parliament building. They are served naan for Rs 7 and delicious mutton Birayani for Rs 51. The perusal of the menu card and prices show how the luxurious life of MPs is subsidized although their income is 68 per cent above the average national income.
In India, the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300 per cent . On August 27, 2010, Indian Members of Parliament voted themselves a threefold hike in their basic salary, from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 and doubled the constituency and office expense allowances to 40,000 each. MPs will thus receive an assured income of Rs 1.3 lakh (a salary of Rs 50,000 plus constituency allowance of Rs 40,000 and office or stationary allowance of Rs 40,000) a month.
The increase in the salaries of MPs and pension to former MPs would cost the government an additional Rs103.76 crore every year. The increase in the daily, constituency and office expenditure allowances will cost the government an additional Rs 38.50 crore every year. An MP’s wage is tax-free and comes with additional perquisites such as free petrol, free telephone calls and free housing, some of it in the most expensive real estate in the country’s capital. Most household expenses – furniture, electricity, water, laundry – are also paid for by the State. MPs can travel anywhere in the country by rail, first class, and get 34 free air tickets for themselves or a companion a year. Spouses of MPs can travel free by air from their residence to New Delhi eight times a year when Parliament is in session and unlimited number of times by rail. MPs also get Rs 2 crore a year to spend on development of their constituencies as they see fit, a practice that many consider unconstitutional though the Supreme Court has upheld it. Significantly, during the debate that preceded the passing of the Salary, Allowance and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2010, some parliamentarians voiced the opinion that an independent body should be set up to decide on the future pay of MPs as there had been considerable public criticism of the fact that MPs were possibly the only section of society that decide their own salary increments.
The Cheap Canteen For “Poor” MPs
Even if food is getting out of the reach of the poor in the country, the Parliament House canteen continues to serve delectable dishes at quite low prices. A series of catering units run by Indian Railways at Parliament House, including at the library and the annexe building, serve food at rates which are a good decade old but are hard to digest for a newcomer.
MPs, who are seen shouting at each other and castigating the government over the rising food prices, definitely relish the cheap canteen food. In 2011 when the prices had really shot up, Dal cost just Rs.1.50 for a katori. A katori of kheer at Rs.5.50 will never taste bitter. So will a small fruit cake at Rs.9.50 and a helping of fruit salad at Rs.7. A bowl of soup costs a mere Rs.5.50, and for a heaped plate of cooked rice pay just Rs.2. Dosa is available at Rs.4. And, top it all with a cup of piping hot tea for Rs.1 — not in the canteen but along a parliament corridor at a tea board.
Such prices are possible because the food at the canteen is heavily subsidized. The government pays a huge amount of tax payers’ money. “Over Rs.5.3 crore has been allocated during the current financial year for the canteens. The Lok Sabha pays some Rs.3.55 crore and the Rajya Sabha shares the amount to over Rs.1.77 crore,” said an official.
At A GLANCE: Parliament House Canteen Food Rates
Tea Re. 1, Soup Rs.5.50. Dal – one katori Rs.1.50
Veg thali (dal, subzi, 4 chapatis, rice/pulao, curd and salad) Rs.12.50
Non-veg thali Rs.22; Curd rice/Veg pulao Rs.8
These prices should be available to only poor people who earns very low. But it is available in Indian Parliament canteen. These ‘poor’ people’s salary is minimum of Rs. One Lakh Per Month.
Compared to developing countries, Indian MPs have unparalleled freedom to fix their own salaries and perks. In France and Japan, salaries of MPs are determined in relation to the salaries of the highest paid bureaucrats. In Germany, Article 48 (3) of the Basic Law says that the members of Bundestag will get remuneration adequate enough to ensure their independence. In Switzerland, parliamentarians do not get any salary or allowance. They just get paid leave from their employers on the days of session. In the UK, the Review Body on Senior Salaries established by law, advises the prime minister on the pay and pensions of MPs, ministers, judges, defence personnel, senior civil officers and other such high posts. It is an independent body consisting of non-MPs who have served in high positions in the judicial and managerial offices with distinction. Several MPs in the recent salary debate in India have suggested an independent body to rule on the issue and the UK body could serve as a model. Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has suggested that there should be a salary commission or a pay commission to decide MPs’ salary.
The wildly fluctuating salary demands from Indian MPs underline the need for such an objective agency. Some MPs have been demanding that their salaries be more than that of top bureaucrats. Two former chief ministers and leaders of their respective parties, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav, demanded a 500 per cent hike in salaries for MPs and stalled proceedings in Parliament during the debate on the current salary increase. They wanted the basic salary to be fixed at Rs 80,001, one rupee more than the salary of a secretary in the Government of India. However, while most MPs run businesses from where they derive income, for bureaucrats, their salaries are usually their sole source of income. Moreover, while a bureaucrat gets pension after serving for 30-35 years, an MP is entitled to pension even if he has spent just one day in Parliament. Nor do bureaucrats get a daily allowance for attending office as MPs do for attending Parliament.
Much of the criticism of the salaries of MPs springs from the fact that the electorate – which incidentally puts them in power – does not think they are doing a good job. It has been pointed out that there is very little debate on most bills in the House unless a particular party has some interest at stake or can derive mileage from the issue. Private members bills are rare. The last one that was made into an Act was in 1970. Public perception of MPs using their positions to become rich and richer make money for themselves also adds to the indignation when MPs vote themselves a salary hike. Moreover, some 150 MPs elected in 2009 have criminal cases against them, with 73 very serious cases ranging from rape to murder.
One-time Rajya Sabha MP, Pritish Nandy, estimates that (at the time of writing) out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha or Lower House, 315 or 60 per cent were crorepatis or multi- millionaires. Forty-three out of the 54 Rajya Sabha MPs elected last year were also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 crore each. The assets of the average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 crore in the last House to Rs 5.33 crore, an increase of 200 per cent. Nandy also said that MPs become richer in office. The average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300 per cent. Over 33 per cent of those with assets above Rs 5 crore won the last elections while 99.5 per cent of those with assets below Rs 10 lakh lost.
The feudal mindset that still pervades among large sections of India’s population, accepts that top politicians are entitled to be treated like the maharajahs of old, who had it in their power to dole out all sorts of favours to their subjects like admissions to schools, water or gas connections, letters of recommendation for jobs or concessions. The intelligentsia is angered at this attitude but can do little. There are a large number of people who feel that MPs should get more salary. But frequent disruptions and forced adjournments of Parliament by the Opposition is increasingly becoming the order of the day resulting in the public exchequer likely to lose crores of rupees. This puts off people. They feel cheated—they did not elect an MP to walk-out and enjoy—with their kind of income they can afford a five-star holiday. While people who elected them would be working to earn their bread and butter, they would not even dream of a day off. Naturally the disruptions irk people and the lot of striking MPs are hated.
The Opposition has used disruptions, adjournments and walk-outs as a weapon to corner the government. However, this leads to fewer debates and discussions on vital issues. The whole of the winter session of Parliament in 2010 had been washed out when an unrelenting opposition refused to give up its demand for formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G spectrum scam. Its better if we do not estimate how much money was lost. And the disgust it generated in the people.
If more disruptions are resorted to, the disgust for the MPs walking out could lead to such MPs losing the trust and sympathy of their voters. Beware, the all-paid life of luxurious living will be lost.
By Vijay Dutt