DO our Members of Parliament deserve a pay rise? Pay rise ? What for? For not doing their allotted work? For absenting themselves when Parliament is in session? For behaving like street rowdies and disrupting proceedings? For rushing into the well of the House and fighting among themselves? First, let us consider the financial status of our MPs. Of the 543 members, 180 are millionaires; as many as 300 are billionaires. As many as 138 of the 206 Congress MPs-more than half of them-are crorepatis. Of the 113 BJP MPs, 58 are crorepatis. Samajwadi Party has 14 crorepatis and Bahujan Samaj Party 13. Other parties having crorepati MPs include the DMK, Telugu Desam Party, NCP, BJD and JD(U).
The MP with the highest assets is Namma Nageshwar Rao from the Telugu Desam Party with Rs 173 crore as his declared assets. He is followed by Naveen Jindal of the Congress with assets worth Rs 131 crore. And these gentlemen want pay rise. They must be jokers with little self-respect. And what is the general contribution of our MPs in the making of law of our people? We have it from no less a person than the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee that out of 1,738 hours and 45 minutes, the 14th Lok Sabha saw 423 hours wasted because of disruptions and adjournments. That amounted to 24 per cent of the time of the House. And how much time did MPs take to discuss Articles in important Bills? In 1991, as many as eighteen Bills were passed with less than two hours of discussion. In the winter session of 2009, of the 15 Bills ‘debated’, eight got less than 15 minutes.
In 2010 five bills were passed with less than a quarter hours of discussion. In the 2010 Budget session, according to a Delhi-based Think Tank (PRS Legislative Research), legislative business took up only 10 per cent of the productive time ( and 7.1 per cent of the total time). What were our MPs doing most of the time? Well, ask them. To be fair, some Bills did get full attention. The National Green Tribunal Bill, for example, was debated for 4 ½ hours in the Lok Sabha and for almost three hours in Rajya Sabha. But such action is not the rule; it is the exception. What needs to be remembered is that few MPs do their homework and study Bills carefully. The rest, apparently, couldn’t care less. Attendance is not just poor. It is inexcusably low in many cases with some members absenting themselves during the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha (July 26 to August 27) with its 24 sittings. And what was the record of some of our MPs? Satyavrat Chaturvedi attended only six sittings, Javed Akhtar 7, Mukut Mithi 6, Sardar Tarlochan Singh 3, Ram Kirpal Yadav 5, Dasari Narayan Rao, Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Swapan Sadhan Bose, two each, Smt Jharna Das Vaidya, Saman Pathak, one each, while Arjun Kumar Sengupta, Nandamuri Harikrishna and PR Rajan did not attend at all. That is bad enough.
During one session, as few as 48 per cent of members did not participate in any debate. On six out of 21 days during the winter session of the 15th Lok Sabha, meetings lasted for less than 2 hours and of 26 bills planned for passage, only 14 were actually passed. On November 26, 2009, when the Lok Sabha debated price rise, only 26 of the 545 MPs were present in the House. By the time Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar finished replying to the discussion on soaring prices of essential commodities, five more Members had left. Thus, the lower house conducted an important business without even the mandatory quorum-at least 10 per cent of its total strength. And even among those present at all Lok Sabha sessions, only a bare 25 per cent restricted themselves to participate in one on two debates. The average attendance of MPs during the winter session was 66 per cent. Only 15 MPs had full attendance. At least 25 MPs missed half the sittings. All this is only one aspect of our MPs’ alleged contribution to parliamentary proceedings.
It comes as a surprise to know that as many as 150 MPs have criminal charges against them, 73 of them facing serious charges. In contrast, the previous Lok Sabha elected in 2004 had 128 MPs with criminal charges, with 55 of them being of serious nature, and they belonged across the party range. The maximum criminal charges are against one Vitthalbhai Hansrajbhai Radadiya of the Congress. And the maximum number of serious IPC (Indian Penal Code) charges are against Jagdish Sharma of JD(U) from Johanabad, Bihar. Statwise, Uttar Pradesh tops the list for having elected 30 candidates with criminal charges followed by Maharashtra (23), Bihar (17), Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh (11 each). Seldom are these facts made known to the public. The media has other important things to report such as who gave parties and who attended them and what clothes they word or did not wear. One paper recently published pictures of nineteen bikini-clad girls just in one issue. That is how the media educates the public.
The point is made by some of our MPs that the salary they get is very low: a bare Rs 16,000 pm. No mention is made of the number of free telephone calls they can make, the number of free air trips they can make with spouses or with dependents, the free accommodation they get in Delhi and several such perks. Granted that salaries are going up as do office expenses and some MPs may not necessarily have private incomes to fall back upon. Some of our top bureaucrats got more than 80,000 pm which is the envy of our MPs, but they do full-time work. MPs, it is well to remember get daily allowances as well, when they attend parliamentary sessions. One may not grudge the Rs 50,000 pm MPs demand or the 200 per cent hike in salaries and allowances of our MPs cleared by the Union Cabinet, but it is time the public tells the MPs it elects what is expected of them in future regular attendance, decent behaviour, full study of paper and meaningful intervention during discussions. Certain norms need to be laid down, failing which an MP should automatically be relieved of his post. For far too long has the public put up with MPs who have brought disgrace not only to the parties they belong but to the country and Democracy itself At the end of each session Parliament must issue a Behaviour Card on each MP for the country to know. It is a much-needed innovation.