Parliamentary Profligacy

Law makers are expected to pass laws taking into account the larger interests of the society, particularly the poor. All this is rhetoric. The reality is quite different. They are busy in making laws giving themselves all kinds of special privileges. They get a masala dosa in Parliament canteen for six rupees only. In truth Parliament canteen is really cheap canteen catering millionaires and billionaires. Members of Parliament think that there is no limit to their monetary and non-monetary benefits. They misuse laws for their own benefit. There are a number of allowances. But, MPs are not satisfied with them. Generally, these laws are passed unanimously! Ruling and Opposition MPs and Legislators in Assemblies all are united when it is the question of pay and perks.

A case in point is the two Bills—one relating to Ministers' salaries and allowances and the other dealing with Legislators' salaries, pensions and allowances—passed recently by the Karnataka State Assembly, without a single dissenting voice. The salaries of legislators were hiked last in 2011. Maybe, it is their very own poverty alleviation exercise!

With the passing of the two Bills on March 30, 2015, the Chief Minister's salary was hiked from Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000, that of the Cabinet Minister from Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000. Their allowance was doubled from Rs l.6 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.

A Minister of State now gets Rs 35,000 as salary against Rs 16,000 earlier. The allowance was raised from Rs 8,000 to Rs 2 lakh. The basic salary of MLAs and MPs was hiked from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000, telephone allowance from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000. The total comes to Rs 50,000 per month.

The reimbursement category hikes really shock one—Rs 5,000 per night for each day of stay at a hotel with no limits on how many days they can stay in a year. Local stay costs the exchequer Rs 1,500 per day. The house rent allowance of all Ministers is hiked from Rs 40,000 to Rs 80,000 per month, and house maintenance allowance from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per month.

How strange these people have taken up responsibility of eradicating poverty. How can one justify the steep hike in pay and allowance of MPs and MLAs at a time when most villages lack basic facilities, the sanitary conditions are deplorable and the schools and hospitals lack basic infrastructure? In the government schools, and colleges, there is serious shortages of teachers. The reason, not enough funds to appoint new teachers.

But legislators are above the law. Or they can amend laws at will to suit their vested interests. The Constitution gives power to the people. But, this remains a shibboleth. Democracy remains on paper as it has been murdered by rapacious politicians. For all practical purposes law makers themselves make a mockery of democracy.

The issue of canteen in Parliament that is now getting currency is self revealing. MPs are asking ordinary consumers to give up their LPG subsidy. But they’re refusing to give up their Parliament canteen subsidy.

The Parliament Food Committee has refused to revise the rates of the canteen. They say the subsidy is mostly used by Parliament staff.

When Parliament is in session 250 MPs use the canteen.

Parliament canteen rates have not been revised since 2010. Since then, fuel rates have increased, the prices of vegetables have gone up and the burden always falls on common citizens.

Why should tax prayers pay for MPs’ food?

The number of people globally living on less than $1.25 per day is likely to be far higher than the already struggling 1.2 billion estimated by the World Bank. And most of them live in India. If one were to define poverty as living on less than $5 per day, over four billion people, that is, two-thirds of the human population, qualify as impoverished, according to World Bank estimates. Again India tops the list in this category too.

The mounting levels of poverty, inequality and state violence stand as a damning indictment of Democracy India boasts of every now and then. The sole aim of this democracy even after 68 years of independence is to enrich the financial oligarchy that dominates society at the expense of the great majority of humanity. There is no democracy for the poor in this country. It does not matter which state—it may be Karnataka, Bengal or Assam—one is born in, or what region of India one comes from, or what language one speaks. If the person concerned is poor, he is excluded from this democracy. And MPs and MLAs have no time to think over the poor, albeit poverty is on the agendas of all political parties.

Vol. 48, No. 6, Aug 16 - 22, 2015