Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee has voiced disappointment over the way MPs raised a ruckus in parliament to demand a salary hike and said he had suggested the setting up of a salary commission to decide on the issue.
Chatterjee said the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had deferred a decision on his suggestion, made when in office, for an institutional mechanism to decide a hike in the emoluments of MPs though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed with the proposal.
In an interview with CNN-IBN, Chatterjee said more and more people were agreeing with his suggestion that there should be a salary commission or a pay commission to decide salary of MPs.
"I am happy that now more and more people are agreeing with me, without of course mentioning that it was initiated by me… that there should be a salary commission or a pay commission. Please, for heaven's sake, let us not decide our salary ourselves. It is so objectionable to me.
"...after I became the Speaker, I called a meeting of the parties, the leaders of almost all the major parties agreed with me and then I sent a proposal to the PM saying that let it be done in a manner that nobody raises a question about the MPs role in it and he agreed very kindly and he said that it should be institutionalized," Chatterjee said.
The former speaker said that he was informed by then parliamentary affairs minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi that the prime minister had agreed to the suggestion.
"...but the cabinet did not approve of it and they decided it will be finalised in the 15th Lok Sabha. I was hurt and I mentioned that in my book also that a decision that has been accepted by all the leaders of all major parties... why should it be delayed?
"Probably, I don't know, they have any peculiar idea of pampering MPs but today it is becoming a matter of not only image of Parliament but the parliamentarians' role is also been ridiculed today," he said.
He said India was perhaps the only country in the world where MPs fix their own salaries. "They make their recommendations and the government generally accepts it or unless it is too high the government does some bargaining with MPs... it looks so bad.
"I appeal to all concerned that don't sully the image of parliamentarians; it is not good for the country. If people have no faith in parliamentarians they will have no faith in the system itself," he said.
Asked if MPs had sullied their image by asking for hikes, he said in a way it was unfortunate.
"They will misunderstand me, they are very good friends of mine, although I am not in parliament, but I will appeal to them that let us do it so that it does not incur any opprobrium from the public or media. I feel media is justified. But I have been requesting them to take up this matter... very few editorials you will find criticizing the MPs role in parliament but I have been saying that please point out to them that this is not the way to function."
While agreeing that MPs do face problems, "but some other methods could have been found out for indigent constituents... but just to go on hiking and saying one rupee plus higher than the bureaucrats' salary does not leave a good taste in the mouth".
"I appeal to my friends to please see that nobody can point a finger at the MPs because the house of people is so important…the young people should not become cynical about parliamentarians and the politicians' role in this country," he said.
Asked about the timing of the increase, Chatterjee said the method of hike was wrong even in the best of times.
To a question whether some perks such as bungalows should have been withdrawn after the hike, he said that members need accommodation.
"Somebody has written that bungalows are Rs.75 lakh a month for rent, well those bungalows are meant for MPs. Naturally they will try and get one of those... we should be happy with a decent accommodation."
Asked about the reasons for criticism of the hike, he said the timing, method and quantum had all come together.
"Timing, the method, their quantum, in this case, have all come together. This is not the time when we are protesting against price rise... then to say give me more than anyone in this country... I don't know...."
However, he disagreed with a suggestion of performance-linked salary. "That will be very difficult, that will be subjective... that won't be possible," he said.