BJP MP Varun Gandhi’s statement on members of Parliament fixing their own salary should give the lawmakers pause. Apart from the poor optics of the Tamil Nadu Assembly deciding to double members’ salary when farmers in the state are reeling under the worst-ever drought in the state in decades, Gandhi spoke of how parliamentarians increased their salary by 400% in the last decade while the number of sittings in the Lok Sabha has dropped from 123 days a year in 1952 to 75 in 2016. This should throw into sharp relief the fact that for lawmakers, performance doesn’t guide remuneration. For a government that has rightly linked performance to promotion for the bureaucracy, this should be a call for introspection and commensurate action.
Accountability of lawmakers is the backbone of remuneration in developed jurisdictions. US law makes representatives directly accountable to their constituents before they are able to receive the benefits of any new legislation on their salary, even though it is the US Congress that takes the call on members’ salary. The UK has put in place an independent body, the Review Body on Senior Salaries, that advises the government on matters of MPs’ salaries and pensions. India too has an advisory body on MPs’ wages, but that is a Parliamentary Committee consisting of members while the UK body consists of distinguished people who aren’t members of its Parliament. For perspective, in the last decade, UK MPs’ salary has moved up by just 13%. The Maharashtra Assembly passed a bill last year to give MLAs and MLCs a two-fold increase in their salaries. There is no doubt that lawmakers’ salaries need to be revised periodically, factoring in inflation and rising costs of living. But such revision should be scientific process, undertaken by an independent authority, not the lawmakers themselves.