The alleged involvement of some MPs in human trafficking has raised the question whether the perks and privileges of the members need to be reviewed following its misuse.
No, says GC Malhotra, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha. His contention is that since the facility of a diplomatic passport was used by some members, they should be sternly punished for it. "There should be stern action as had happened in the case of the MPs who were expelled in the cash-for-query scam," he said. He admitted that public opinion may be in favour of withdrawing such facilities like issuance of diplomatic passports which the errant MPs had misused for human trafficking. But it should not be done.
In taking the position that the facilities and privileges should continue, Malhotra made two points. One, that diplomatic passports help to project the country abroad. And more importantly, it is in keeping with protocol. "You cannot review such facilities without upsetting the protocol and the system. An MP, for instance, enjoys a higher protocol that the secretary of a ministry who, alongwith some of his junior colleagues like the deputy or the additional secretary, are entitled to a diplomatic passport," Malhotra said.
The former Lok Sabha official, however, maintained that any breach, misuse or violation of parliamentary duties or perks and facilities should be sternly dealt with and no leniency should be shown. "The message that went out was good when the MPs in the cash-for-query scam were expelled. But leniency was shown when it came to those who were implicated in the scandal relating to the MPs' funds," he said.
A similar point was made by a former Parliamentary Affairs Minister Satpal Malik who argued punishment should be dealt with an even hand. He traced the present-day deterioration in standards to the failure of the presiding officers and the House to take stringent measures when such scandals broke earlier. He cited the case of the JMM bribery case where the CBI did a 'wonderful job' in getting to the bottom of the case bu the House failed to act against the members involved.
"It is not the case of reviewing privileges but of taking stern action to protect the dignity of the House and ensure that privileges are not misused," he said.
But Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Pushpesh Pant holds a different view. "Everything should be reviewed. MPs are given privileges to effectively perform their duties. But if it is repeatedly brought out that they are misusing them, then there is need to review it. In fact, not only should these be reviewed but there should also be a scrutiny of the functioning of the members and the perks and privileges they enjoy," he said. Pant took note of the empty benches during debates, the ruckus that takes place in the House, the low attendance in the House and committee meetings.
Not surprisingly, political leaders did not favour a review of privileges. "There is no need for this. Privileges are linked to their functioning as MPs and public representatives. Instead, prompt and stringent action should be taken whenever a member is found involved in a crime," said Congress spokesman Devendra Dwivedi. Reacting to queries on having tainted ministers in the Cabinet and members of the House, he noted that the Supreme Court itself has set conviction as the yardstick.
On its part, the BJP - two of whose members have been found involved in the human trafficking case - will tell the all party meeting that Parliament’s Ethics committee should examine all cases of wrong doings by MPs and recommend action them. Half a dozen BJP MPs were earlier implicated in the cash-for-query scam.