The spotlight is back on politicians and MPs following the Supreme Court verdicts upholding the expulsion of 11 members in the cash-for-query scandal.
Parliament’s decision to expel them helped it salvage some of its lost shine while the expelled MPs suffered a dent in their image and political career.
The expelled members, however, did not lose their pension. Each one of them is also entitled to append the term "former MP" to his name.
"Under the new rules, even if a person is an MP for a day, he is entitled to pensionary benefits and all other facilities extended to former members," said GC Malhotra, former Lok Sabha Secretary General who pointed out that such privileges can be withdrawn only through a resolution adopted by the House.
Until the rules were changed in 2003, a person had to be a member of the House for at least two years to claim pension. It is no longer so.
A "former MP" now gets Rs 8,000 per month for serving for five years and another Rs 800 for every additional year thereafter. The period of nine months would be counted as a year. That is not all. The benefits extend to life-long free travel by rail along with the spouse or a companion.
For a serving MP, the list of benefits is much longer. After Parliament amended the salary, allowances and pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 last December, a sitting MP’s total package doubled from about Rs 26,000 per month to around Rs 50,000 per month.
The hike in basic salary apart, the member is provided with accommodation, constituency, travel and dearness allowance, telephone, electricity, water and medical facilities and a stipulated number of free air journey alongwith the spouse and an unlimited number of free rail travel for two.
"It might look like it’s a lot. But it is not much if you compare it with the salaries people get in the private sector or the kind of work that we have to do. We often have to run two establishments (in Delhi and back home).
"We have to cater to the demands of our electorate that gets upset if we do not attend weddings or funerals, give them tea or help them get the sick admitted in hospitals. The demands are endless… how do we meet them?," asked a sitting member.
He also noted that an MP’s constituency is large, both in terms of population and size (some portions are difficult to access even by rail or car) and covering them involves heavy expenses.
According to RSP's Rajya Sabha MP Abani Roy, "The constituency allowance given to a Lok Sabha member may not be sufficient if the MP actually tours the area."
But the fact that each MP is entitled to Rs 2 crore local area development fund gives them an opportunity to develop their constituencies. ( A Rajya Sabha member can spend it on the state he represents).
The sting operation that saw some MPs negotiating a commission with contractors, however, has further deepened the impression of MPs as corrupt. "But for every corrupt MP, there is also a Toofani Saroj who was outraged at the idea of commissions being offered on MPLAD by the under-cover reporter," noted another MP.
His remarks notwithstanding, the impression remains that the MPs are a pampered lot and the practice of giving themselves a hike attracts public opprobrium.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last May, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee suggested that the Government consider setting up an independent commission to restructure the salary and allowances of MPs instead of allowing MPs to vote on their own pay packets.
"People want exemplary behaviour from MPs. That is why there has been widespread support to expel some members for wrongdoing," he said in his letter.
The PM responded to Chatterjee’s letter in July saying that the existing practice of the Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of MPs deciding on the pay packets of members would continue for the present. That is where things stand at the moment.
Email Saroj Nagi: snagi @hindustantimes.com