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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 39, September 18, 2010

Shame! Shame!

Monday 20 September 2010, by P K Chatterjee

In a parliamentary democracy, the most important institution through which the supremacy of the people is expressed and enforced is Parliament. The Members of Parliament are there only in representative capacity as trustees of the people. Gandhiji said:

…..If they do not become trustees of their own accord, force of circumstances will compel the reform, unless they court utter disaster.

He further said “…Public opinion will do what violence can never do.” What Gandhiji said is probably irrelevant for the present vote-bank-oriented, caste-ridden party leadership and also due to the criminalisation of politics which keeps the real patriots away.

The unique provision in our Constitution which confers the power to Parliament to decide the salary and perquisite of its own Members should have made the MPs more circumspect and restrained while exercising the power. They should have elicited opinion from the public before using Parliament. Most probably our MPs were apprehensive that public opinion would put a negative seal on their expectations.

Even if they indulged in the exercise, the way some Members conducted themselves brought disgrace to the country. Their performance in the mock parliament was broadcast on the television to the whole world. They did not realise or perhaps care what kind of accolade their performance will receive, specially from the Indian public.

Let us now examine on merits the justification for this demand for increase in salary and perquisites of the MPs. Were they underpaid? The unanimous answer of the public will be an emphatic no. They have rendered the Indian Parliament the weakest Parliament in the world. The measure of an MP’s remuneration is a percentage of the people’s income. This is accepted the world over. We do not know what was the standard adopted by our MPs and Ministers to raise their own salaries and perks so high.

It must be clearly understood that comparison with other countries of the world on the basis of the exchange value of the rupee with that of the corresponding unit of currencies in the foreign country is wholly irrelevant. That artificial exchange value is used for the purpose of international trade and varies from time to time with the change of circumstances.

It must be remembered that MPs are trustees of the people. The fund out of which their salaries and perquisites are paid comes out of the revenues of India, which is a trust fund comprising of money belonging to the people. In fixing their own remuneration a per capita equation with the income of the people is primarily an important and proper determining factor and has been taken as the basis in every democracy in the world. In the United States of America, this ratio of the remuneration of the MPs to the per capita income in the country is only 35 times. In England this ratio is only nine times. In France it is eight times. In our next-door neighbour Pakistan this ratio is only 17 times. After the increase given to themselves this ratio in India is more than 68 times over the average annual income of an Indian. It is a clear breach of trust. (The Times of India, August 2, page 13)

In no country in the democratic world, Parliament is vested with the power to fix the salary and perquisite of its own Members. This unique feature has remained in our Constitution because, basically it is the same colonial Government of India Act 1935 enacted by the British Parliament designed to ensure preservation of their own authority under a camouflage of autonomy. If one compares the 1935 Act with the first Constitution that emerged from the Constituent Assembly this will be evident.

During British rule remuneration of the Governor-General and Members of his Council was fixed by the British Parliament. The present system is only a revised version of it.

Let us now see the perquisites allowed to the MPs and the manner of their disbursement.

The perquisites enjoyed by the Indian parliamentarians are also unique. They outshine their salaries, and even put all the democracies in the world into shame.

MPs are provided with free furnished flats in South and North Avenue and other posh New Delhi areas. Those who are senior MPs, like Messers Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav etc., get posh luxurious bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi, with spralling green lawns and gardens—all maintained at government expense. The market rent of each bungalow, estimated by property dealers, will be Rs 75 lakhs to Rs 1 crore per month. The rent per month of a first-floor flat in North and South Avenue is Rs 2.5 lakhs per month. (See The Times of India, August 22, page 14) The cost of maintaining the lawns and garden in each bungalow cannot be less than Rs 30,000 per month. A nominal rent is paid by the MPs for the house. They pay for their electric and water charges. (The Times of India, August 22, page 14) Besides, they get free travelling allowance, with their spouse, by air, railways etc.
Except their salary, the rest of the emoluments of the MPs are tax free. The MPs also get pension which has been enhanced.

The salary and perquisites provided for the MPs in other foremost democracies of the world are worth studying. The procedure established in England may specially be worthy of taking notice of to see the degree of self-restraint and economy they have enforced on spending state revenue for themselves. India is supposed to have adopted the British parliamentary system and model.

As early as in 1971 a statute called “The Review Body on Senior Salaries (SSRB)” was enacted in England. It is this independent body which determined the MPs’ pay and fixed the level of any increase in these salaries and also the allowances and perquisites.

Now, in 2009, another statute called the “Parlia-mentary Standards Act 2009” was passed under which a body called ‘Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA for short)’ was created. This IPSA has produced new rules on expenses which set out what the MPs can claim and what they cannot claim. It is important to note that the IPSA is independent of Parliament, government, and political parties. No MP or party boss can be a member of the IPSA.

Professor Sir Lan Kennedy is the Chairperson of the IPSA at present. Four other members are Jackie Ballard, the Rt. Hon’ble Sir Scot Baker, Ken Olisa and Prof Isobel Sharp.

All the allowances, namely, accommodation, office, travelling or other allowances are not an ad-hoc lump sum fixed but the actual expense for which the MP has to put in his claim to the IPSA which sanctions after scrutiny. Travelling expenses are paid for actual travel, and travel for personal or party work and such other business is disallowed by the IPSA. All IPSA decisions are put on the website for public information. The IPSA has now produced a new set of rules which sets out details of items an MP can claim and what she/he cannot claim.

A British MP can claim rental for housing, office etc. only for two months after he leaves Parliament. There is no pension for an MP in England. The discipline and austerity laid for themselves by the British MPs in spending public revenue for their own benefit can well be taken as an example by our Hon’ble MPs.

The drama of a mock parliament enacted by Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and others inside the House has ridiculed the country’s Parliament, and lowered its prestige and image in the public eye. No MP or PM or anybody, however highly placed in great prestigious office, will be excused for bringing down to ridicule the Parliament of the people of India. These leaders will come and go, and most of them will go into oblivion. The Parliament of India will remain as the trustee of the people as long as the country exists and the importance of this should be remembered by our leaders so that Parliament is treated with due respect and decorum.

Conclusion

THERE was no justification for any increase either in salary or perquisites existing at the present moment. The matter relates to public revenue being spent for the personal comfort of the MPs and thereafter the government must justify the action in public.

It was surprising that the media in the whole country played down the entire exercise as if it was a minor issue, and I remember some papers even accepted that there was a case for some increase. It is only a strong public opinion, directly expressed, which can restrain our present-day netas who are themselves crorepatis yet want to enjoy luxury at the expense of the people.

The author is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.

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