The Joint Committee on Salaries and Allowances of MPs, a panel constituted solely of parliamentarians, has proposed a hike in their emoluments. If the panel’s suggestions are accepted by Parliament, the basic pay of an MP would increase from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and pension from Rs 20,000 to Rs 35,000. A slew of revisions in other segments of the salary — daily allowances, travel expenses, health benefits — has been proposed. Questions have been raised over the proposed hike. This is because, in the dominant public perception, politicians and legislators are unremittingly self-serving. To be sure, this is often an uncharitable assessment, and an exaggeration. Yet, a panel of MPs mooting a raise for MPs is only likely to reinforce the negative impression.
Lawmakers deserve decent salaries and reasonable hikes periodically. But should they be the ones to decide how much it must be? Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee has a point when he says that it is not appropriate for MPs to fix their own pay. MPs’ pay and perks are drawn from public funds and it is important that the allocations are made in a manner that is transparent and independent, and seen to be so too. Hence, Chatterjee’s proposal when he was Lok Sabha speaker that Parliament set up a separate pay commission to look at MPs’ salaries deserves reconsideration. Chatterjee has revealed that the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had backed his suggestion and called for it to be institutionalised. The cabinet, however, disagreed, perhaps fearing a backlash from legislators. The UK’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), a panel of eminent persons that reviews the pay and perks of British MPs, offers a model that India could adopt.
Meanwhile, the MPs’ pay package could do with some rationalisation, especially when it comes to free housing, allowances and travel. For instance, should a lawmaker be paid specially for attending Parliament? Comparisons with the salaries of their counterparts elsewhere reveal that Indian MPs are well paid — they are better paid than legislators in countries like Japan and Singapore. When linked to per capita GDP, the wage of a parliamentarian is 68 times more than what the average Indian earns — this disparity is among the highest in the world.