It is a shame that Indians boast of having the largest democracy in the world while their Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha are helpless to reign in the lawmakers who hit the newspaper headlines for disrupting the Parliament.
I am an Indian also but I have no place the hide when my friends from abroad ask me about why Indian legislators are wasting taxpayers’ money without discharging their primary duty of deliberation and lawmaking.
This malaise of Indian MPs playing truant in pursuit of competitive politics is not a new phenomenon. The presiding officers of the two Houses have time and again frowned on this, various reports in the media and by non-governmental organizations have brought it to the public domain and the MPs themselves knew that the public do not accept their behaviour.
It seems the lawmakers think they are accountable to none and the situation is worsening. The issue has been hitting the newspaper headlines recently.
First, a hapless Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee openly declared during the Budget Session that the MPs “are working overtime to finish democracy.” The ‘honourable’ MPs were disrupting the House on the farmer’s debt waiver issue while well understanding that Rs 26,000 is being spent per minute in running only the Lok Sabha.
Second, Chatterjee lamented that the Lok Sabha was becoming a place of “Tamasha” and the conduct of business in the House turning into “a farce” after the issue of attacks on North Indians in Maharashtra saw a heated debate in the House and some Members, keen to have their say, spoke out of turn.
The per minute expenditure of running the Lok Sabha alone was put at Rs 22,089 during 2006-07, rose to Rs 24,632 in 2007-08 and the latest estimates put it to Rs 26,000.
In 2007, the exchequer lost more than Rs 20 crores on account of disruptions in Parliament. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha lost over 130 hours of time due to repeated uproar and pandemonium, mainly on the two issues of Indo-US civil nuclear deal and Nandigram.
Early in February, the Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari had done some plain speak in the All India Whips’ Conference.
He had munched the data to press his point:
• The number of sittings in the Rajya Sabha has come down from an annual average of 90.5 during 1952-61 to 71.3 during 1992-2001, a decline of 20 per cent. The comparative figures for the Lok Sabha are 124.2 and 81.0 or a decline of 34 per cent.
• The annual average of the number of bills passed by Parliament has come down from 68 during 1952-1961 to 49.9 during 1992-2001.
• About 5.28 per cent of working time was lost due to disruptions in the 11th Lok Sabha. This rose to 10.66 per cent in the 12th Lok Sabha and to 18.95 per cent in the 13th. In the 14th Lok Sabha, 21 per cent of the time has been lost due to adjournments.
Now, in his latest endeavour to deal with the issue, the Vice-President has, in an unprecedented act, referred to the Privileges Committee of the Parliament to look into a complaint by a group of MPs that such disruptions amount to breach of their privileges to ask questions.
Perhaps, the VP was thing that a vibrant democracy, so as to claim a favourite term of the politicians, should find a solution to this from within itself.
Much is not though expected to come out of it as the Parliament has not codified what are the privileges enjoyed by legislators for so many years.
A proposal for “no-work-no-pay” for the lawmakers for disrupting the House proceedings failed to take off last year with no support from any political party.
The salary and allowance of the MPs keep on increasing and now there is talk of a pay commission for the MPs.
It is nobody’s case that the salary and allowance of the MPs should not be revised in tune with the changing price rise just like as in case of government employees, but the question is do they deserve it without discharging their duty.
An amendment in August 2006 to the Salary, Allowances and Pension of MPs Act, 1954 had increased the monthly salary to Rs 16,000 from 12,000, the minimum pension and family pension of the MPs will be increased to Rs. 8000 per month and Rs. 4000 per month respectively.
It was also proposed to double the constituency allowance from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 20,000 a month, daily allowance (when Parliament in session) from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 and raising daily travel allowance of Rs 8 per kilometer.
Our MPs get lesser than their counterparts in the United States, Canada and Western European countries and there would not have been any public criticism in raising their salary, allowances, etc. only if they discharge their primary duty of deliberation and lawmaking.
The MPs get Rs 14,000 for office expenses every month, which includes Rs 3,000 for stationary items, Rs 1,000 on franking of letters and Rs 10,000 for secretariat services.
Each MP and his spouse or companion is entitled to unlimited, free, first class railway travel anywhere in the country.
They can also travel anywhere in India — with a spouse or companion — 40 times by air free of cost every year, business class.
Most of MPs get a sprawling bungalow in New Delhi for which he/she pays a rent of just Rs 2,000 per month.
Each MP gets near-free electricity of 50,000 units every year. And free water.
The MP’s bungalow is furnished with air conditioners, refrigerators and television sets, all free of cost. Maintenance of the house — including washing of sofa covers and curtains — is done free of cost by the government.
MPs are entitled to three phone lines and 170,000 free local calls every year.
When an MP travels abroad officially, he is entitled to free business class air tickets. He is also paid a daily traveling allowance, which varies depending upon the country being visited.
Most medical expenses of MPs are taken care of by the Contributory Health Service Scheme of the Union government.