BJP member Varun Gandhi today questioned the lawmakers’ power to hike their own salaries and objected to major bills like Aadhaar being passed without serious discussion or referring them to a parliamentary panel. Raising the issue during the Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha, he also pitched for an external body to decide on salary hike for lawmakers while wondering whether the MPs had “earned” the 400 per cent renumeration hike they had given to themselves in the last decade.
“When matters regarding salary are raised recurrently, it makes me worry about the moral compass of the House. Nearly 18,000 farmers have committed suicide over the last one year. Where is our focus?” he asked. He said it was “shameful” that the number of sittings in the Lok Sabha had dropped from 123 days a year in 1952 to 75 in 2016. “The Winter Session, 2016, hit a low point of 16 per cent. It is shameful. Taxation bills, as significant as Aadhaar, were passed within two weeks without being referred to a committee,” he said.
Gandhi’s strong statement on not referring to the Aadhaar bill to a parliamentary committee is unlikely to go down well with the government, as the opposition parties too had accused it of ramming the bill through the House.
Hitting out at the practice of lawmakers to often raise the demand for a salary hike, he said the Jawaharlal Nehru cabinet at its first meeting had taken a collective decision not to avail salaries for six months in view of the people’s sufferings at the time. He also cited several other examples from the past. Arrogating to themselves the authority to increase their own fiscal compensation was not in line with the morals of democracy, the BJP member said. He referred to the recent protests of Tamil Nadu farmers in the national capital and noted that they had drunk their urine and demonstrated with skulls of fellow farmers who had committed suicide, in order to strongly make their point.
Gandhi then noted that the Tamil Nadu assembly on July 19 doubled the salaries of its legislators, a move which sent a “broad message of insensitivity”.
As compared to a 13 per cent rise in the UK, Indian lawmakers had raised their salaries by 400 per cent in the last decade. “Have we really earned this massive increment,” he asked. Citing the MPs’ “performance” over the last two decades, he said barely 50 per cent of the bills were passed after scrutiny from parliamentary committees.
“When bills are pass without serious deliberation, it defeats the purpose of having a Parliament. The House itself has been created to dissect, analyse and debate laws, and ensure that every law has a strong policy mechanism behind it. The rush to pass bills shows a priority for politics and not policy. 41 per cent of bills introduced have been passed without discussion,” Gandhi said.
He said the United Kingdom has an independent authority – Review Body on Senior Salaries – consisting of distinguished non-members, to advise the government on the pay and pensions of MPs. Such a mechanism “sadly” does not exist in India, he said, adding that Indian parliamentary democracy is loosely derived from that of the UK.”For the greater good of this nation, we must create an external body, independent of us members, to determine salaries. Or, if we self-regulate, considering the economic conditions of the last man in the society, we must empathetically forego our privileges, at least for the duration of this Parliament,” he said.
Saugata Roy (TMC) supported him.