Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Indian Members of Parliament want more pay and perks for working less

A parliamentary committee headed by BJP MP Yogi Adityanath has recommended quantum jump in the salary, allowances and perquisites of all the MPs. Since 1954, the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act has been amended 28 times, the last one being in 2010. Presently an MP gets salary of Rs. 50,000/pm, constituency allowance of Rs. 45,000/pm, office allowance of Rs. 45,000/pm, daily allowance of Rs. 2000 (for attending Parliament session or committee meetings), free residential flat in Delhi or a bungalow at nominal monthly rent of Rs. 135, free railway pass for unlimited travel in the country with spouse in AC first/executive class and a companion in AC second class, 64 free air journeys for self and eight for a spouse per annum (these free railway passes and free air journeys are in addition to free railway/air ticket with allowances for journeys between constituency and seat of Parliament/parliamentary committee), free water, free electricity (up to 50,000 units/pa, free telephone calls (up to 50,000 local calls/pa), medical facilities on par with Class I central government servants, etc. An ex-MP gets pension of Rs. 20,000 pm (Rs. 1500 pm for every year in excess of five years of membership).

Not to be counted are perks in form of highly subsidised (up to 83%) food items in Parliament canteen: fish curry Rs. 25, masala dosa for a pittance (Rs. 6), boiled vegetables also for a pittance (Rs. 5) and so on

The Parliamentary panel headed by an MP who calls himself ‘Yogi’ wants much more. In all there are 60 demands including 27 perks: 100% increase in salary, substantial increase in all allowances, free railway pass for unlimited journey for companion, medical facilities for their children and grandchildren, cheap housing loan, official vehicles, guesthouses in all state capitals, etc. etc.

Please note that all the allowances and perks received by MPs are tax free. About 45 years ago, some MPs told the government that their salary should not be taxed under the head ‘salary’ as was the practice, because they were not ‘employees’ of the government. Without amending the Income Tax Act, the government issued an executive circular that the salary of legislators would be taxed under the head ‘other sources’ as a result of which all allowances and perks became tax-free. Our MPs have no objection to receiving salaries, etc. under ‘Salaries, Allowances and Pension of Members of the Parliament Act’ but do not want to be taxed under the head’ salary’ under the Income Tax Act. According to article 79 of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament consists of the Pres and two houses. The President’s salary is still taxed under the head ‘salary’, though his perks are exempt.

Not satisfied with what they have listed, the panel has demanded ‘study of salary, allowances, TA/DA etc. of MPs of foreign countries for comparison with those existing for MPs in India.’ They forget that legislators in mature democracy like USA and UK do not resolve to stall functioning of listed the bodies.

We elect legislators and then have to pay to them whatever they wish at the cost of taxpayers and those 190 million people who start every day. Certainly, the MPs need certain facilities so that they can devote their time and energy to the work they are expected to do. Unfortunately, their track record for last so many years has been quite poor. The first four Lok Sabhas sat for an average 600 days. The situation was tolerable even up to 1993. Thereafter, decline started. The 15th Lok Sabha met just for 357 days (75.40 days per annum). In the UPA regime legislative work was not a priority. Even on the days the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sat, the sittings had often to be adjourned due to noisy protests on some excuse or the other. As a result, several important businesses lapsed at the end of the 15th Lok Sabha. The 15th Lok Sabha had 99 MPs who never asked any question; 28 MPs – 11 from the Congress alone – never participated in any debate; 370 MPs never presented a private member Bill.

True, the performance of the MPs of the 16th the Lok Sabha has been better. Till May 2015, the Lok Sabha sat for 90 days and average attendance was 85%.

It is also true that the 16th Lok Sabha is the richest Lok Sabha in the history of the country. 82% of the new MPs have assets worth over Rs. 1(one) crore each. That may not give a correct idea of the assets of MPs because there are relatively ‘poor’ MPs, especially from the CPM. There are very rich MPs in the Congress (average MP is worth Rs. 16 crore) and BJP (average MP is worth Rs. 11 crore).

If our MPs want to compare themselves with their counterparts in other countries, they should first compare themselves with the Congressmen of the richest democracy, the USA. There is a ceiling on what a US Congressman can earn from sources other than what is paid by the government. It is just 15%. There is no such restriction here. Our MPs should also compare their conduct with the conduct of the US Congressman. During the proceedings for the impeachment of President Clinton, except for the voice of the Senator who was speaking, there was pin-drop silence. No one was disturbing him. Can you imagine such a situation here? Never. In the USA and UK, it is quite common for the ageing legislators to voluntarily retire from politics. In our country it is an exception.

The Congress party has already warned the government that unless Prime Minister Modi sacks all the ministers on its hit list, the Parliament would not be allowed to function. Assuming, for a moment, that this demand is met, the opposition will come forward with other demands such as amendment of Land Acquisition Bill or amendment of GST Bill or action against utterances of some reckless MPs of the ruling party which must be met otherwise the Parliament would not be allowed to function. It has been the behaviour of all parties in opposition. The political parties settle their political scores at the cost of their electors. If the MPs do not do the work for which they have been sent, the electors suffer.

But one thing is certain, when the bill is introduced to raise the emoluments and perks of the MPs, they would all forget their differences and rush to the Parliament to give themselves more and more. They have done in the past. They will always do it. Once they have given themselves what they want, the usual disruptions and boycotts would be resumed.

If our MPs want more, they should prove that they deserve it. They should not extract from the tax payers just because they have power to do so. We pay for their salaries, allowances and perks for doing their parliamentary work, not for preventing the Parliament from working.

Devendra Narain
July 02, 2015