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View | For honest politics: Why our MPs deserve to be paid better salaries

Lawmakers cutting across party lines are doing the rounds in Parliament to build a political consensus on a revision of their salaries.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2016 09:33 IST
DK Singh
Indian lawmakers
Law-makers cutting across party lines are doing the rounds in Parliament to build a political consensus on a revision of their salaries.(Sonu Mehta/ HT Photo)

Before the Monsoon Session of Parliament comes to a close on Friday, lawmakers are knocking on every door to get a pay hike. In the past three days, they have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposition leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and senior ministers. But the government remains non-committal, apprehending adverse public reactions.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal boldly defended the four-fold hike of the MLAs’ salary last year, saying that if they still indulge in corruption, “don’t spare them”. A decent salary, a section of the political class argues, incentivises honesty and integrity in public representatives. It might not prevent many from falling for the lure of the lucre, but it would help a conscientious few to resist temptations such as taking cash for asking queries in Parliament.

When BJP MPs raised the issue at the parliamentary party meeting last Tuesday, senior leaders were guarded. They wanted opposition parties to be on board. The MPs then met Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge. He was sympathetic, but wary. Talk to Left parties, he advised. Comrades lead a Spartan life, many still believe. “The government said it is considering it. But we are not demanding it,” CPI(M) MP Tapan Sen told HT. He wouldn’t say whether he is in favour or against the proposal.

A parliamentary committee had recommended a 100% hike in MPs’ salaries and allowances. The monthly compensation of an MP includes Rs 45,000 as basic salary, Rs 45,000 as constituency allowance, Rs 30,000 to pay his staff and Rs 15,000 for stationary items and postages. In addition, he or she also gets Rs 2,000 per day for attending parliament. Other entitlements include rent-free accommodation in the capital, 1.50 lakh free phone calls a year, and 4,000 kilolitres of water and 50,000 units of electricity per annum.

Read | From Re 1 to Rs 2 lakh: How much do our politicians earn?

MPs don’t find it good enough. “What comes in my account every month is Rs 1.09 lakh (including Rs 15,000 meant for office expense). Hundreds of people from my constituency visit my office every day. I must offer them tea, biscuits, food and even money if some poor people need medical treatment. What’s left for me and my family?” rues Mysore MP Pratap Simha. When he needed prosthetic legs for his wife, he was told that under the central government health scheme (CGHS), he was entitled to Rs 10,000 only. “I had to borrow money to get those artificial legs which cost me more than Rs 3 lakh.”

Last month, a former BSP MLA in Punjab was found living with his family on pavements under tarpaulin sheets and sleeping on iron cots. He claimed he was honest when he was an MLA in 1990s and so, couldn’t buy a house. A few years back, a Left MLA in West Bengal resigned to work in the private sector as his salary was not good enough to pay for his brother’s education and support the family.

Read | If parliamentarians want a better pay, let them perform

A US Congressman gets Rs 9.70 lakh as basic salary, about Rs 4.30 lakh more than what a member of the UK’s House of Commons gets -- that is, excluding the perks and allowances. A Pakistani lawmaker’s monthly compensation is around Rs 80,000, while Chinese parliamentarians don’t get any salary at all. It’s another matter that National People’s Congress, the Chinese Parliament, is a billionaires’ club.

A politician in India might spend half of his life trying to enter Parliament and might not get elected for a second term. He would then be left to fend for himself with a monthly pension of Rs 20,000. There are, of course, parliamentarians belonging to political dynasties and running business empires.

As per profession-wise data of MPs, there are 28 businessmen, 12 industrialists and 4 builders in the current Lok Sabha. But there are also 77 political and social workers and 44 farmers/ agriculturists. Is Rs 1.09 lakh a month enough for an MP, confronting uncertainties in the next elections?

It’s nobody’s case that Indian MPs’ pay package should be at par with their American or European counterparts. Nor does one surmise that good salaries to legislators would end the scams and scandals involving politicians. But there is no harm in incentivising probity in public life.

Read | Maharashtra lawmakers get monthly salary hike with immediate effect