The privileged motion

Written by Dilip Bobb | Updated: May 25 2014, 09:34am hrs
Watching the sea of shining happy faces at the BJPs parliamentary board meeting in Central Hall last week prompted the thought: does a seat in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha for the next five years really bring such happiness There was also, for dramatic effect, a tear or two to be wiped away, but, generally, Indias members of Parliament should be a happy lot. For one, they are the only legislators in the world who get to decide their own salaries and perks. Secondly, they are entitled to a pension even if they mark their attendance in Parliament for just one day! Then, of course, there are the perksthe patronage, being wooed by all and sundry, including businessmen, granting of favours, the clout, the houses in Lutyens Delhi, no queues, and all those freebies, including use of public-sector facilities and influence to appoint heads of PSUs and state corporations.

Heres the ultimate happy pill: an MP actually earns more, in actual terms, than the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi will get a monthly salary of R50,000, a sumptuary allowance of R3,000 (for food and personal expenses), a daily allowance of R2,000 (R62,000 a month) and a constituency allowance of R20,000. His gross monthly income will be R1.35 lakh, equivalent to a middle-level manager in the corporate world. In 2010, Indian MPs voted themselves a threefold hike in their basic salary to R50,000 and doubled the constituency and office expense allowances. MPs now receive a monthly income of R1.4 lakh (a salary of R50,000 plus constituency allowance of R40,000, office or stationary allowance of R40,000 a month and a daily allowance of R1,000 when attending Parliament). There are additional perks like free petrol, free telephone calls, free housing in the most exclusive areas of the capital with furniture, water and electricity paid for. They get 34 free air tickets for themselves and a companion to travel with anywhere in the country or first-class on Indian railways. Their wives can travel free from their city of residence to Delhi eight times a year and an unlimited number of times by rail. That does not include the R2 crore a year for development of their constituencies. Essentially, the major perks are pelf and patronage. In India, the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300%! Moreover, these salaries and perks are tax-free. MPs salaries are 68 times the countrys average salary. During the debate on the salary hike in 2010, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav demanded a 500% hike in salaries for MPs. They wanted the basic salary to be fixed at R80,001, one rupee more than the salary of a secretary in the government of India. It was a question of inflated egohow can an MP earn less than a bureaucrat Earning more than the Prime Minister did not seem to be an issue.

Heres the difference: Modi is known to be a workaholic. In contrast, in recent times, frequent disruptions and walkouts ensured that Parliament barely functioned. The total sittings per year is down from 130 a year to less than 70. In addition, many MPs mark their attendance and then vanish for the rest of the day. Even a high-profile MP like Rahul Gandhi had an attendance record of 43%. The nine sessions during 2010-12 saw the Lok Sabha working for an average of less than four hours of work a day during its 227 sittings, less than two-thirds of the scheduled six hours per day. Around 577 hours were lost in disruptions and forced adjournments. Despite this, an Indian MPs pay and perks are higher than those of their counterparts in Singapore, Japan and Italy. In terms of the ratio of the pay package to national per capita income, India ranks second after Kenya and pays almost double than the members of the US Congress who cannot earn more than 15% from sources outside of their Congressional salary. India imposes no such restrictions. In Mexico, MPs are paid well, but they cannot do any business or practise a profession. In France and Japan, salaries of MPs are determined in relation to the salaries of top bureaucrats. In Germany, members of Bundestag get remuneration enough to ensure their independence. In Switzerland, parliamentarians do not get any salary or allowance. They merely get paid leave from their employers on days when Parliament is in session. None of them decides his or her own salary.

Hopefully, the new Lok Sabha should see more bang for our buck. The NDA has a brute majority, so disruptions and adjournments will be a thing of the past. With Modi in charge, MPs will be less inclined to play truant. They will be remembering his words at the parliamentary board meeting: We are here in the temple of democracy. We will work with all purity... for the people of the country. Work and responsibility are the biggest things. We will have to dedicate ourselves to fulfill this responsibility. With Manmohan Singh around, Rahul Gandhi could afford to skip Parliament as often as he did. Modi will brook no such truancy from his MPs. The pampering could be over, and not a day too soon.

Dilip Bobb

The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features, The Indian Express