Updated: January 22, 2021 2:35:07 pm
Food served in Parliament canteen is set to cost more as it will no longer be subsidised, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said on Tuesday (January 19).
The low rate of food in the Parliament canteen has often attracted controversy, with critics objecting to lawmakers enjoying a dirt-cheap meal at the taxpayers’ expense. Others have pointed out that the subsidy doesn’t benefit just MPs, as a host of other Parliament staff and security personnel also take their meals at the canteen.
However, in 2019, all MPs had “unanimously” decided to do away with the subsidy.
Exactly how cheap is the food at the Parliament canteen, and how much was the government spending on it?
Expenses on subsidy
When Speaker Birla announced the end of the subsidy, he did not specify how much the government would save with the move. However, news agency PTI said the Lok Sabha Secretariat could annually save more than Rs 8 crore with the subsidy coming to an end.
The Parliament canteen had for the past 52 years been run by Northern Railway, whose officials said the annual revenue from Parliament catering was to the tune of Rs 15 to Rs 18 crore. The Northern Railway would be paid whatever cost it incurred on running the canteen from the Ministry of Finance through Parliament.
From this year, the catering will be done by Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC).
A major furore over the subsidy had erupted in 2015, when a reply to an RTI query by activist Subhash Agrawal revealed that the canteen got a subsidy of Rs 14 crore every year.
The item list received under the Right to Information Act revealed that items like ‘fish fried with chips’ were available at Rs 25, mutton cutlet at Rs 18, boiled vegetables at Rs 5, mutton curry with bone at Rs 20 and masala dosa at Rs 6, with rates subsidised by 63 per cent, 65 per cent, 83 per cent, 67 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.
Was all the amount being spent on MPs’ food?
No. Apart from food, the subsidy is used for other expenses, like salaries of canteen staff. Also, many other people apart from the MPs use the canteen. In fact, when the RTI query had been filed in 2015, the sales in the canteen for when Parliament was in session and when it wasn’t were almost the same.
Of the total subsidy of Rs 14 crore revealed by the RTI query, about Rs 11-12 crore would go towards the salary of the staff manning the canteen.
The largest chunk of customers of the canteen are Parliament staff, ministries whose standing/consultative committee meetings happen in Parliament or its annexe buildings, members of other parliamentary panels, who come both during and in between sessions, as well as parties holding press conferences there. The per day sales when Parliament was not in session amounted to Rs 2,09,939.70 in 2015. The days it was, the figure was Rs 2,08,670.59.
Demand for scrapping the subsidy
In the wake of the severe criticism following the RTI reply, then-BJD MP Baijyant Panda wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, that the food subsidy extended to MPs be removed “to raise public trust in lawmakers”.
Subsequently in 2016, the prices were revised after a gap of six years, and it was decided the canteen would be run on a “no profit and no loss basis”. Thus, the cost of mutton curry went up from Rs 20 to Rs 40. A veg thali now cost Rs 35, from the Rs 18 earlier, while chicken biryani was for Rs 65.
Then in December 2019, with Om Birla as Lok Sabha Speaker, lawmakers “unanimously” decided to give up the subsidy.
The rates after the latest move are not known yet.
Will the subsidy be removed for everyone?
In the December 2019 meeting which decided to do away with the subsidy, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury pointed out that the move could hit hard the hundreds of employees and media personnel who come to Parliament. Chowdhury said it would be unfair to expect them to pay high charges, and suggested that the subsidy be withdrawn only for the parliamentarians. Some members from the ruling side agreed with him. It is not yet clear how the decision will be implemented.
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