No bang for that extra buck, MPs?

Our representatives just gave themselves a pay-hike without even seemingly deserving any of it

himanshujha

Himanshu Jha | September 2, 2010



Do our members of parliament deserve the kind of pay hike they gave themselves recently? What about their performance? The questions beg some straightforward answers if we look at Parliamentary performance. The primary role of the Parliament is to legislate and it is precisely in the legislative activity that Parliament has devoted least amount of time. Between 2001- 2008 Parliament has devoted mere 25% (In LS) and 28% (in RJ) of time on the legislative business. In 2009 it was 17% (LS) and 18% (RJ) respectively. Bulk of the time is devoted on the non financial business which translates in the time lost, pandemonium, walk outs etc. More than 30 percent of time was lost in winter session of LS and 13% was lost in Rajya Sabha. This means increasingly less time devoted in the discussion of passage of Bills which are disposed of in matter of minutes. In 2009 27% of the Bills were discussed for five minutes or less in the LS. It is estimated that the per minute cost of running the Parliament is Rs.25,000 plus. One can imagine the cost to the public exchequer when precious time is lost in Parliament due to pandemonium, walk outs, slogan shouting etc, so much for the public cost to democracy. The numbers of sittings have reduced considerably over the years- from 151 days in 1956 it came down to 109 in 1985, 93 in 89, 77 in 2006 and in 2009 it was 64. The presence of the members in the house also poses some serious questions on the level of seriousness with which they treat the business in the house. Recent collapse of question hour when 33 members were absent during the question hour in whose names starred questions were listed for the day is a case in point. In some cases even the ministers are found absent during the question hour at a point when questions were being raised related to their ministries. So much about the deserving parliamentary performance.

Another point which needs deeper examination and perhaps some public debate as well is the need for the pay hike keeping in view the economic status of the members. If the average assets are some indication to go by, as a citizen I feel few thousands in their kitty are meaningless. It is obvious that the members have several other sources of income. The average of assets of the members of 15th Lok sabha amounts to 5.33 Crores, an increase from 1.86 Crores in the 14th Lok Sabha. There are 315 Crorepati’s in the 15th Lok Sabha, again an increase from 156 in 14th Lok Sabha. It is interesting to note that if bulk of the members were re-elected, has their assets increased from the last term? Well, it apparently has as 304 members who recontested the elections in the 15th LS recorded an average asset increase of 289 percent. Questions can also be raised about demand and the need for the pay hike as increasingly the seats in the parliament are being treated like investments and business opportunity. By a moderate estimate more than 10,000 Crores were spent in the 15th general elections. It is also shown that the likelihood of winning the elections are high if you are rich. A study by National Election Watch establishes this connection by showing that 33% of candidates having assets worth more than 5 Crores won the elections.  Obviously with such investment in winning the elections, candidates would expect some returns as well. The patterns emerge in the dramatic increase of assets from the 14th Lok Sabha to the 15th Lok Sabha. More than 25% (128 out of 543) of the members in the 15th LS belong to the businesspersons, industrialists and tradespersons category. The membership of Parliamentary committees (incidentally bulk of the legislative action has shifted on to these Committees) is a virtual who’s who of bigwigs belonging to different industries.

The moot point is what does it mean to be a member of Parliament- is it a profession, is it an office of profit? Clarity on these basic points  is necessary and needs to be debated and redefined. Its not as if the members of Parliament applied to a job, election manifestos and campaigns explain extensively about the public spirit and desire to do good to the society which motivated them to come forward and contest the elections. Then to claim comfortable salary after being elected on this logic sounds somewhat contradictory.

Understandably, substantial allowances and facilities under different heads available to the MP’s are perhaps necessary to enable them to function as peoples representatives ( daily allowance, office allowance, constituency allowance, telephone, housing in prime locations, water and electricity, medical, conveyance, traveling allowances and facilities including that of spouses etc.).They also have at their disposal substantial amounts of money under the MPLAD scheme to allow them to undertake programs of development in their constituencies. Well, So far so good. But to top all this, a substantial salary and pension for life demands justification.

What is the basic logic behind this hike? Why the hike at the present juncture? What is the formula worked out for the hike? Various  reasons cited at the moment are trivial and at best unconvincing i.e. the high cost of entertaining the constituents, hike according to the protocol  and we should get one because others are getting it ( MP’s emoluments in other countries & Pay hike of the government servants after the sixth pay commission).

(The views expressed here are his personal. The author would like to acknowledge National Election Watch and PRS legislative Research for some of the data quoted in the piece.)

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