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MPs Write Their Own Cheques

WHO wouldn’t like a raise in these troubled times, but are we, the taxpayers, as lucky as the MPs who have the option of giving themselves a pay hike any time and as much as they want? While the aam aadmi has to wait for his or her annual increment which also depends on the companies’ growth and financial status and various other factors sometimes linked to global issues, MPs belong to the super-class and can endorse their own hike regardless of recession or unbridled fiscal deficit. After waiting, therefore, for a little over four years since the last raise, India’s parliamentarians have chosen to augment their incomes further in an act of feathering their own nests which is every individual’s dream after all. For the MPs, it is just a question of constituting a committee which can recommend doubling of the salary and a 75 per cent increase in the pension of former MPs.

Although their present salary of Rs 50,000 does not rate very high by corporate standards, it has to be noted that this amount is just the base of a number of other privileges and perquisites which follow. Among them is the daily allowance of Rs 2,000 for attending the parliamentary sessions, which is also to be raised by an unspecified sum. Consider, however, that some of the sessions transact no business at all because of relentless disturbance. And when even the daily sessions are frequently marked by rowdy scenes, adjournments and walkouts, it is open to question whether the MPs should be paid for virtually doing nothing. The reason, however, why these hikes are generally resented is the poor reputation of the political class as a whole. Had it been otherwise, criticism of the raise might have been absent. But the impression at present is that parliamentarians have an insatiable desire for more and more of good things in life – and all at the cost of public exchequer.

The fact that their committee wants the MPs to be entitled to 20-25 free domestic air trips a year underlines this inclination. On the ground, too, an MP and his spouse are entitled to free first class air-conditioned railway tickets. All of these are in addition to free official accommodation, 5,000 units of free power, 4,000 kilolitres of water and 50,000 free local calls which an MP gets every year. There is little scope for saying, therefore, that the representatives of the people are not well looked after by the vast masses of the people who cannot fix their salary enhancements or even reasonable revision in minimum wages.

Let’s look at the way the salary of MPs grew over the years. In 1968, an MP’s salary was Rs 400 plus Rs 31 daily allowance.  From 1969 to 1985, the salary was Rs 500 + Rs 51 daily allowance. Pension for MPs was introduced in 1977. In 1985 their salary hiked up to Rs 1,500. Since 2010 it is Rs 1,40,000. On August 27, 2010, they voted themselves a threefold hike in their basic salary, from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 and doubled the constituency and office expense allowances to 40,000 each.

When the corporate mantra is ‘perform or perish’, why should MPs be exempted from the condition? Let’s do a comparative study with their counterparts in other parts of the world. In Singapore, MPs’ pay package consists of fixed and variable components, the latter tellingly called ‘GDP bonus’. India needs a similar appraisal system. If an independent arbiter was setting MPs’ salary hikes here, it wouldn’t dream of giving them a 500 per cent upgrade over a period in which India’s GDP grew only by 85 per cent. Growing their salaries only as much as the country’s per capita income grows is an excellent idea. Not only would it give them the right incentive to perform, the country would also be in a position to pay for their perks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be doing his political stretching asana to sell yoga as a form of spiritual discipline, but the committee on MPs’ salaries and allowances, headed by Yogi Adityanath, his party MP, appears to prize “bhog” instead. They aren’t content with umpteen freebies already in the bag and want more. They want a 75 per cent pension hike even as a horrified world watches Greece being driven to default by its pension bill. They want ‘facilitation’ at airports even as Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju gather infamy for railroading airlines. In glaring contrast to Modi suggesting that Air India’s royal mascot be replaced by one representing aam aadmi, MPs act like they got a different agenda, which makes them republican India’s new maharajahs!

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