By Sagarika Mitra:
When he was hauled up before the British parliament for plundering wealth in India, Robert Clive is reported to have said that he stood amazed at his own moderation. Our members of parliament who have just voted for 300% increase in their pay and perks could well echo the words of the English robber baron. Finally, they have settled for a pay packet of Rs .1.60 lakhs a month.
This, of course, does not include accommodation very often in the form of a Lutyen’s bungalow – in the most expensive and exclusive part of Delhi. The market rent of which would be as much again as their gross salaries, if not several times more. If other perks like furniture, 4000 kiloliters of water, interest-free car loans, two telephones, two mobile phones one and a half lakh free telephone calls, 50000 units of electricity and other allowances are monetized, the emoluments of an MP total to a little over Rs.37 lakhs a year.
Taking purchasing power parity into account, our MPs cost us more to maintain than the legislators of Japan , Singapore and Italy cost their respective countries. The cost—to-country of each of our MPs is 68 times what an average Indian makes while law makers in Singapore, Japan and Italy respectively cost their countries four times, six times and seven times, what the average citizen in each of these countries earns.
One of the demands is that their salary must be at least a rupee more than Rs. 40,000/- the salary drawn by the top bureaucrats’ viz. the secretaries to the govt. of India. In 2006 the pay of MP’s was increased by the government, it went up from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 16000 a month. Now it is going to raise by 300% with basic salary at Rs. 50,000. Added to this are constituency and office allowances, which have been doubled to Rs. 40,000 each a month. In all, a MP would get around Rs. 1.45 lakh per month including salary and allowances. The demand is ludicrous. The job is not comparable legislature lays down the policy of the govt. and the executive implements it. Legislators oversee the working of the bureaucracy in their superior capacity. These privileges provided by the constitution must not be translated into higher pay.
Those drawing Rs.50,000/- today did not get it through a rub of fingers or by bringing govt. work to a halt due to undisciplined conduct. They started their career in 1975- 76 on a salary of 700/- p.m. and had toiled hard for over three decades to reach the pinnacle of their career by constantly maintaining a record of outstanding professional performance and personal integrity. Figuratively speaking, they have inched their way upwards while a first time MP will draw a salary and perks of around three lakhs per month. Civil servants are full time govt. employees with no option to take any other work and they will continue to work in the present pay structure for ten years (Jan.2006 to Jan.2016) while the MPs are revising theirs just after four years and that too by 300%.
Further, their new pay structure does not include other benefits such as 34 free air journeys single or with spouse to any place in India and unlimited air-conditioned rail travel. In fact, MPs vis-Ã -vis civil servants may now be the highest paid persons on the roll of the state.
In some countries the salary of the parliamentarians is more than that of senior bureaucrats – France and Japan. In Germany, Basic Law provides for such salary to members of Bundestag that they do not indulge in malpractices. But these are instances of developed countries. In Mexico their salary is heavy but they cannot do any business or profession. They cannot hold any office in any political party either. The United States framed a code of conduct in 1977 which lay down that no senior can have any income from outside sources exceeding 15% of the pay they receive from the congress. Indian MPs/ MLAs have no such binding. They can practice like doctors of lawyers and even hold a number of offices of profit.
They also enjoy MPs quota in admission to Kendriya Vidyalaya’s. When some years back this was withdrawn; they did not allow the Lok Sabha to function and the govt. buckled under their pressure to restore it. Though the apex court has upheld the constitutional validity of the MPLAD scheme, it is a questionable measure. There are quite some MPs who do not spend a pie from this fund for four years but in the election year they allot small schemes of Rs .20000-25000 each amongst their supporters and thus raise a few thousand workers for their electioneering.
There are some countries where MPs get less pay than in India- in Switzerland they do not get any salary. They get leave from their respective offices for the duration of the session. In fact, corporate culture is now dominating Indian politicians where political leaders saunter along in limousines and SUVs dressed in designer clothes. This is a cruel joke on Gandhian Philosophy of simple living and high thinking. In 1975 the word socialist was added in the preamble of the Indian constitution. But no effort on the ground is visible towards this goal.
There was no such constitution before Independence yet in 1937 when congress governments were formed in nine states, the ministers used to travel in lower (third) class. Our MPs call themselves impoverished but over 60% members in the present Lok Sabha have declared their assets of more than a crore, the average asset holding of a Lok Sabha member is Rs. 5.33 crores. So it is a club of millionaires that is clamouring for more at a time of double digit inflation. Compare this thirst for money with the radical steps in countries like U.K to slash salaries of public officials to rein in inflation thus embarrassing our parliamentarians.
Most objectionable part of pay hike is that MPs/MLAs themselves decide their pay and perks which is against the principle of natural justice. In the U.K. the House of Commons constituted a body in 1971 to advise the PM on deciding the pay of MPs, Ministers, Judges, Security Officers and Bureaucrats. Its members are non parliamentarians. In the United States the senators were paid by their respective states but later through a constitutional amendment they started getting paid by the federal govt. so as to enable them to function freely.
The fourth U.S. President James Madison had introduced twelve constitutional amendments. Ten of these were ratified by the states which enabled the bill of rights to come into being. It would be interesting to know that out of the two amendments rejected by the states one related to raise in the pay and allowances of senators. This would also have happened in India had Indira Gandhi been at the helm of affairs.
She would have put her foot down at the very beginning. Her father, the legendary Jawaharlal Nehru was miles ahead in such matters. In his days once a Deputy Minister wanted a swimming pool to be constructed in his official residence. The C.P.W.D expressed its inability as it did not fit into the norms and allotment for upkeep of Deputy Minister’s residences. As the minister became adamant, the file traveled up to the Prime Minister, one minister of his time reproduces the text of Nehru’s note on the file, “He can either remain a Deputy Minister or have a swimming pool.”
Feroze Gandhi has a permanent place in India’s parliamentary history for unearthing the Mundhra Financial Scam in the fifties. These are only a few instances of real public leaders who had made their marks in the hearts of the nation.
The most reprehensible part of the whole issue has been the mock parliament session on the floor of the House when it stood adjourned due to the ruckus created by the two volatile yadavs. That too one starring Laloo-Mulayam as joint “Senior PM” BJP’s Gopi Nath Munde as Speaker and others in spirited Bill- pushing cameos, summarily dismissing the UPA govt. This disparaging act was not for an issue of public importance but for a few more peanuts led by two leaders who have arrogated to themselves the legacy of leaders of our nation. Further irony is that both these self-professed socialists are facing disproportionate assets cases in courts. Rules permitting, all the participants in the mock session need to be severely censored by the House for creating this “new low” in the country’s parliamentary history.
Our live and let live Prime Minister had nothing to do in the matter. He is not expected to be conversant with the niceties and nuances of political functioning as these did not form part of the works of Adam Smith, Lord Keynes or John Stuart Mill.
Leadership always gravitates towards the person who can stand up and say what he actually thinks. In other words there are only a few such courageous persons who can express their views transparently. And these are the people who can bear the mantle of leadership. They lead from the front and are not lead by their followers but those who seem to prefer power without responsibility (of being in the highest political office) have yet to travel a long way to clear the bar.