Vice-president Hamid Ansari has stated the obvious when he said that our legislatures are losing their credibility. His anguish at the manner in which our elected representatives conduct themselves with little concern for the voters was echoed by the Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, last year. But, the worrying part is that our political worthies do not seem particularly concerned about criticism, even when it comes from the highest quarter within their own ranks. We are now so used to seeing our MPs trading insults and disrupting Parliament even as crucial bills hang fire, that we have ceased to be outraged. But let us not forget that we are paying for these shenanigans to the tune of Rs 20,000 per minute lost. Many parliamentarians do not even bother to show up for the mandatory six hours a day when the House is in session.
The v-P’s plea that the sittings must be at least 130 days a year as opposed to the 102 it was in the last session is well taken. In many Western countries, Parliament is in session for at least 140 days a year and that too without any unseemly breaks. Now our MPs may say that since they are in the business of serving the nation and not in the game for any monetary benefit, they may be forgiven the occasional lapse. In fact, they have long lamented that they are so poorly paid and this is why the salary, allowances and Pension of MP Act has been amended at least 26 times since 1954. While an MP’s salary may be only Rs 12,000 per month, the perks are nothing to be sneezed at. To give you an idea — Rs 14,000 for office expenses, Rs 3,000 for stationery, Rs 1,000 for franking, Rs 10,000 for secretarial expenses, Rs 10,000 as constituency allowance, Rs 500 per day when Parliament is in session, Rs 8 per km on travel, free first class rail fare for the MP and spouse, 40 first class airfares, free first class travel abroad for work, a sprawling bungalow in Lutyens Delhi for Rs 2,000, free electricity, water, telephones, servants, home maintenance, pension and, last but not least, Rs 2 crore for local area development. Not a bad haul considering that our parliamentarians don’t really have to put themselves out too much for it.
We can only hope that the vice-president’s remarks will be taken seriously and our errant MPs will reform their ways. Lack of confidence in the functioning of Parliament will strike at the very roots of democracy and this is something we cannot afford.