HOW much will a Member of Parliament get by way of emoluments from now on? The Telegraph (August 21) has given the figures, thus: Monthly salary: Rs 50,000, monthly constituency allowance: Rs 40,000; monthly office expenses allowance: Rs 40,000; daily allowance during House session: Rs 2,000; Parliament sits about 100 days a year. Near free electricity upto 50,000 units a year; free water; three phone lines and 1.7 lakh free local calls a year (465 calls a day); daily travel allowance: Rs 16 per km; MP and spouse/companion entitled to unlimited free, first-class railway travel: bungalow in Delhi at nominal rent; free furnishings with ACs, TV sets, refrigerators basic monthly pension: Rs 20,000; most medical expenses paid.
Deccan Heralad (August 23) noted that parliamentarians “have made money by asking questions in Parliament, by misusing the MPLAD scheme”. The paper said that “the high price tag they are attaching to their membership of Parliament and the way they are realising the price demean the very idea of public service” and “many are skeptical whether the returns are worth the investment”. The New Indian Express (August 23) pointed out that the number of Parliamentarians with a criminal past has increased since 2004. It said: “While there were 128 MPs with a dubious background in that year, there are about 150 of them now, of whom 72 face ‘serious’ charges”. The Times of India (August 23) told off the MPs by saying that what the cabinet has cleared is “more than reasonable”, our MPs “take home more money than their counterparts in developed countries including Japan, Italy and Singapore”. Damning the demand of our MPs to peg their basic pay about that of top civil servants as “ludicruous”, the paper said that “the hungama over pay hikes also raises questions of propriety”. And it added: “It must be remembered that the claim for more money is raised in Parliament dominated by crorepatis. Over 58 per cent of the members in the present Lok Sabha have declared assets of more than a crore of rupees…. So it’s a club of millionaires that’s clamouring for more at a time of high inflation and economic distress”. And warned the paper: “Let them not forget that voters are watching”. The Indian Express (August 23) also drew attention to the presence of many crorepatis in Parliament, as if they cared.
The Asian Age (August 19) drew up a list of all the perks that an MP gets and wondered whether MPs deserve a fat pay hike. “In any case” it said, “as far as perceptions go, the work of an MP is to exercise his/her lung power, and little else”. It cannot be gainsaid, the paper went on to say, “that even in terms of scheduled parliamentary sessions, the number of days that our MPs work is below the average in most functioning democracies, particularly those in the West”. Obviously irked by the manner in which MPs were demanding high pay rises, said the paper: “Once an exasperated Jayaprakash Narayan had said that the IAS was the most powerful trade union in the country! Now it appears that the baton has been passed on to our MPs.” Much earlier, on July 6, DNA had run an article showing how Parliament has been passing laws with very little discussion on them. It said: “A study done by PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based Think Tank, shows that the lack of adequate discussion on bills was not confined to the budget session alone. In the winter session of 2009, of the 15 bills debated, eight got less than 15 minutes….” In the 2010 budget session, PRS data shows legislative business took up only 10 per cent of the productive time-and seven per cent of total time. Only six of the original target of 27 bills were passed by both houses of Parliament. The article quoted Congress MP Koshore Chandra Deo as admitting that lack of discussion was not good for Parliament. Lack of attendance of MPs cannot also be good for Parliament. It has been inexcusably low during the monsoon session of the Lok Sabha (July 26 to August 27). Some MPs did not even attend the session. But what has been a worrying factor for many responsible citizens is the behavioural pattern of our MPs who think nothing of shouting each other, disrupting proceedings and rushing into the well of the House, showing disrespect to the Speaker and in general behaving like street rowdies.
The saddest part of it all is that there is nobody to pull them up. In fact, India has no leaders. We have only politicians. The Prime Minister has no power. A recent public poll undertaken by India Today with the cooperation of another body showed that Dr Manmohan Singh’s popularity has shrunk to just one-yes, one-per cent. According to Virendra Kapoor, the well-known columnist who writes for many newspapers “the open display of differences within the Cabinet and outside in the party is a reflection of the weak leadership of the Prime Minister”. Writing in Afternoon Despatch & Courier (May 10) he had said that the budget session of Parliament was “disrupted days on end on the Rs, 60,000 crore scam” and that “the PM did not consider it necessary to assure Parliament that a free and fair investigation would be conducted and its report submitted to members”. Even earlier the Times of India (March 3, 2010) had made the point in a report which said that the government had opposed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking changes in law which would disqualify legislators instantly if sentenced to more than two years for a criminal offence. In the UPA government, said the paper, “JMM chief Shibu Soren retains his Lok Sabha membership.” What sort of government and what sort of democracy do we have that an MP charged with crimes and sentenced to jail can attend a Lok Sabha session? How long are we going to make fools of ourselves? And if the Parliament is home for member with criminal charges against them, what kind of joke is our democracy reduced to? Will Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh kindly reply? Is Justice to be legislated by people charged with breaking it?