When former prime minister Manmohan Singh sought to know if his teaching job amounts to holding an office of profit, he probably started a trend of sorts. In the past few months, many MPs have sought prior approval from the Parliament’s joint panel on office of profit for taking up an outside position.
As many as 10 MPs – ranging from SP’s Jaya Bachchan to BJP’s Sanwar Lal Jat – have applied for clearance until now. While Bachchan sought the Satya Pal Singh-headed panel’s clearance to become the chairperson of West Bengal’s committee on film heritage, Jat wanted it to approve his appointment as head of the Rajasthan farmers’ commission.
The panel has cleared all such requests brought before it.
The office of profit refers to an executive position that draws regular salaries or other perks. MPs are barred from taking up such responsibilities.
The idea behind the concept of office of profit — which evolved in England — is to preserve the independence of the legislature by keeping its members away from any temptations from the executive that may obstruct the independent discharge of their duties. It also seeks to enforce the principle of separation of power between the legislative, judiciary and executive – a basic feature of the Constitution.
In 2006, Congress president Sonia Gandhi landed in a controversy after critics alleged that the National Advisory Council — a body headed by her — was not exempted from the office-of-profit law. Gandhi resigned from the Lok Sabha, only to return with a bigger victory margin. The UPA government later amended the law to exclude NAC and some other bodies from its ambit.
“The Sonia Gandhi incident probably acted as an eye-opener. Many MPs are cautious now. They apply for clearance before taking up the job,” said a panel member.
The Rajasthan government also sought clearance from the body to appoint MPs to district school advisory committees. Similarly, it was only after acquiring the panel’s nod that senior-most MPs of the two houses were nominated to the National Council for Senior Citizens.