Bickering MPs may have virtually shut down Parliament's winter session so far, but there's one thing they all readily agree on: enhancement of privileges and perks.
The committee of privileges of the Lok Sabha, in a report placed in the House on Wednesday, nearly unanimously recommended that MPs be permitted to flash red beacons on their vehicles and their official status be brought on a par with chief justices of high courts.
Countering the criticism that it was inappropriate to propose privileges for MPs at a time when crucial House businesses had been stalled, committee chairman PC Chacko, a Congressman, told HT: "These issues have been before Parliament for a year and the report has no relation with the current stalemate. After all, it is the duty of the committee to take up any matter referred to it by the House or the Speaker."
BJP MP Shahnawaz Hussain said the perception that MPs enjoy jet-set facilities was "totally wrong". "Most special facilities for MPs now stand withdrawn, barring just a few. Even junior bureaucrats seldom respond to queries from MPs regarding public work. Therefore, their status needs an upgrade."
The committee, headed by Chacko, also recommended that former speakers of the Lok Sabha should be placed at number seven in the Warrant of Precedence on a par with cabinet ministers, former PMs and leaders of the opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
At present, former speakers of Lok Sabha are not part of the Warrant of Precedence, while the Speaker is placed at number 6 along with the chief justice of India.
The committee expressed "displeasure" that MPs are placed at the end (number 21) -- "much below their status and lower to persons not holding Constitutional offices and even bureaucrats".
The warrant of precedence is the protocol list (hierarchy of important positions) in which the functionaries and officials are listed according to their rank and office. It is only used to indicate ceremonial protocol and has no legal standing.
In the UK, MPs do not figure in the Warrant of Precedence, while in France the deputies and senators are placed at serials 11 and 12. In the House of Representatives and the Senate in Australia, the MPs are placed at serial number 20.
In Canada, the PM is second, the speaker of the House of Commons is fifth, members of the Canadian ministry are seventh, leader of the opposition is the eighth and members of the House of Commons are the 20th.
Noting that there were recurrent instances of protocol violations and discourteous behaviour displayed by officers in their dealings with MPs, the privileges committee recommended that the MPs be placed at number 17, which is above cabinet ministers of state governments, who are placed at number 18.