Pay panel for legislators to stave off public outcry

Susceptible to public criticism over the MPs determining their pay packets, the government seems all set to establish an Emoluments Commission. The All India Conference of Chief Whips and Whips last month chaired by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs M Venkaiah Naidu resolved that an independent panel be set up for determining the salary and allowances of MPs. It said that the states should consider having uniformity in the salaries and allow-ances of legislators with varying allowances depending on the situation in each state.

The decision, when implemented, would fructify the initiative of then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee who had mooted the proposal way back in 2005 and on which there was unanimity among the leaders on the urgency of putting in place an institutional mechanism for fixation of the salary and allowances of MPs. The argument advanced was that it sullies the image of legislators if they fix their own salary.

Under Article 106 of the Constitution, MPs are entitled to such salary and allowances as may be determined by Parliament by law, in exercise of which power, the Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 was enacted. The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Salaries and Allowances of MPs, set up from time to time under the Act, makes recommendations with respect to the salary, allowances and other facilities to MPs and the pension payable to ex MPs.

Then minister for parliamentary affairs Pawan Bansal, while piloting the Salary, Allowances and Pension of MPs (Amendment) Bill, 2010 effected the latest revision. He informed the Lok Sabha that the cabinet had approved the proposal in principle in 2006 for setting up of a permanent mechanism for determination of salary, allow-ances, pensions etc of MPs and the modali-ties thereof would be settled after discussing the matter with the political parties.

While the members welcomed the proposal, then Leader of Opposition L K Advani was emphatic that “there should be mechanism in place to decide the matter and neither Parliament nor any Committee of Parliament should decide it, rather an outside authority, whatever you call it, should decide about it”. But, there were suggestions that the salary should be linked with performan-ce principle of ‘no work, no pay’ considering ‘persistent disruptions and empty benches’.

However, this was stoutly opposed by one member (Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of RJD) who thundered, “but whenever I disrupt the House, I feel that I have worked the most. We have to some time fight for the people’s problems”. Responding to the debate, the minister assured the House that the “universal demand for setting up a permanent mechanism for determining the emoluments of MPs would be implemented after wide consultations within the parameters of constitutional provisions.”

Indisputably, the MPs must be provided essential salary, allowances and facilities befitting their representative character and the extremely onerous and demanding nature of their responsibilities. No legislator anywhere in the world represents such a vast constituency of people as an Indian MP. The sheer geographical spread of the country and myriad problems of constituents, requires most of the MPs to maintain two establishments, one in the constituency and another in New Delhi.

Additional cost

In many cases, a member has to maintain a third establishment where his residence is outside the constituency. Besides, a member needs qualified support staff, a facility which most of the leading parliaments extend. This entails considerable additional cost. However, the moot point is, why the legislators want to renounce the power to determine their own salary and allowances and how many countries in the world have such independent Emoluments Commissions. 

According to a Survey conducted in 2013 by the Geneva based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), only parliaments of a few countries, namely the UK, Namibia and Bhutan, have such independent  commissions. Most of the parliaments determine the salary of their MPs in reference to the pay scales of the civil service or external indices. Other parliaments follow different methodologies but eventually all proposals for determining the emoluments are approved and passed by Parliament. 

The rationale adduced for setting up an independent panel is that it would set at rest the media criticism and public outcry as MPs would cease to be the judges of their own case. Further, the Commission would  take due note of the huge responsibilities and the important role that the MPs play as public representatives and ensure that the matter is decided in a fair, transparent and equitable way. It’s also argued that the salary of the MPs should not be so low as to deter suitable people to enter politics or so high as to be lucrative but adequate enough to facilitate efficient discharge of their multiple functions and duties and to secure their independence and integrity.

Besides, their representational duties, MPs not being ascetics, have to discharge their familial obligations. The panel, though novel per se, should not be  seen by the discerning public as a modus-vivendi for procuring pay hike creating more public misgivings and distrust. The avalanche of public outcry that poured in following the recent report of the expert committee appointed by the Delhi Legislative Assembly raises question of credibility.

Political rivals termed it as ‘a fatty package’ and ‘a ploy to keep disillusioned Aam Aadmi Party MLAs happy’ debunking the high sounding moral claim of ‘members voluntarily  giving up the constitutional and statutory privilege’. The outcry is suggestive of the dictum, ‘a remedy worse than the malady’. Hopefully, the Centre would take the clue and constitute a credible Emoluments Commission for determining the salary and allowances of MPs in a fair, transparent and equitable manner and succeed in staving off public criticism and outcry, so valued by the people's representatives.

(The writer, author of Parliamentary Questions: Glorious Beginning to an Uncertain Future, is Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha)

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