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Politics And Money Making For A Dangerous Equation

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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-à-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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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