Staying power

There is a case for direct cash transfers to MPs,to free up the Lutyens Bungalow Zone.

Written by The Indian Express | Published: September 4, 2013 12:03:30 am

There is a case for direct cash transfers to MPs,to free up the Lutyens Bungalow Zone.

The relentless uproar in Parliament and outside over big-ticket corruption and its custodianship may be distracting attention from the pervasive culture of petty corruption and patronage that has also been growing. Inured though the nation is to small-time political corruption,the revelation in this paper that as many as 51 properties in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone have been let out to ex-MPs and other “guests” of MPs is nevertheless shocking. This petty misuse of a resource earmarked for legislators allows unelected representatives to maintain a presence in the political heart of the capital and gain unfair advantage. By hallowed tradition,it would seem,parliamentarians squat far beyond their terms. Some have had to be literally evicted in those paroxysms of stable-cleansing that the system periodically suffers. But the letting out of heritage property is a new twist — and perhaps we shall next learn that subletting is normal practice.

Among all the advantages accorded to parliamentarians,from preferential travel bookings to free computers,two are clearly insupportable. One is the MPLADS,which is all too often misused to deliver discretionary benefit at the constituency level. The other is the assurance of sumptuous,1930s quality accommodation during a 21st-century housing crunch. To retain thousands of hectares in the heart of India’s fastest-evolving city as an open-air museum for colonial history,accessed exclusively by government officials and parliamentarians,is a questionable policy. By that logic,the Acropolis in Athens should belong to Greek politicians,not the world’s tourists. Delhi’s bungalow zone should be reduced to a smaller heritage area to be enjoyed by the public,not only legislators and government officials. This would make way for high-occupancy office and residential space,along with thickly planted green lungs,as distinct from the well-trimmed lawns that pointlessly litter the zone.

With a rent allowance,MPs and officials could secure perfectly serviceable housing anywhere in the city. Direct cash transfers would cost a fraction of the charges run up in maintaining the bungalow zone. Treated as a fixed element in salary,the strategy would cap Parliament’s outlay for housing. And if MPs needed to put up perpetual “guests”,it would be on their own money.

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