Parliament is indeed the final arbiter on pensions and perks for elected representatives, as finance minister Arun Jaitley and others have pointed out. But the reservations expressed by the Supreme Court, saying that the freebies and pensions for MPs and MLAs seem unreasonable and asking the Centre why these facilities and allowances should not be done away with, perhaps reflects an oft-repeated public grouse that our elected representatives get more than average people get by way of benefits. While the court is not against some sort of financial aid to ensure that former members of legislative bodies don’t sink into penury, it saw no reason for very rich MPs and MLAs to receive such largesse at the taxpayer’s expense.
Law makers get a pension for which they do not have to contribute unlike the average Joe. The court had upheld the law to grant pension to former law makers but many amendments were subsequently made to the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act adding many more facilities. As of now, a person who is a member of the House even for a day can claim pension.
It does not stop at pension. Ex-MPs can get unlimited train travel even after demitting office. While their salaries may not be as much as those in the private sector, they get a host of perks from subsidised housing in upmarket areas, free petrol upto a limit, household and secretarial assistance and official transport.
It is no one’s case that our MPs and MLAs should live a hand-to-mouth existence. But the court’s argument that they should not be entitled to perks which most others in the workforce do not get is not without merit. They should be paid well and given the assistance required to execute their jobs efficiently. But today we have a situation in which elected representatives expect the State to look after them for life, something which is not prevalent in other democracies. Once out of power in the US and Britain, politicians fend for themselves by either going back to their original professions or taking on other engagements.
Here we have actually seen MPs and ministers trying to hang onto government accommodation, many of them having secured more than one bungalow during their tenure, on one flimsy pretext or the other. If a party feels that one of its members is in dire need after demitting office, it help shoulder the burden and not expect only the State to do so.