On Tuesday, the Indian parliament managed an uncharacteristic feat—a near full house. Unfortunately, the reason behind this happy turn of events is a little less rosy than it sounds.
The healthy attendance was because parliament was discussing an issue close to MPs heart—their pay hike. A Joint Parliamentary Commission has proposed a 300 percent hike in the salary for MPs, with lawmakers wanting their salaries raised from (an admittedly measly) Rs. 16,000 a month ($343) to Rs. 50,000. The JPC has also proposed an increase in office expenses from Rs 20,000 a month to Rs. 60,000 a month.
Led by former Bihar Chief Minister and former Railways Minister Lalu Prasady Yadav, MPs lamented the fact that Indian lawmakers apparently receive the lowest compensation in the world. The issue has become a unifier in the Lok Sabha, with more than 400 MPs joining together on this demand, and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was forced to assure voluble MPs that the bill will be tabled in this session of the Parliament.
The issue has left a bitter taste in the mouth for many in the country, especially because chronically absent MPs made it a point to boost their numbers on the day just because it’s an issue they personally stand to benefit over. Critics of the hike have also argued that the remuneration isn't indicative of the other privileges associated with being an MP. For example, MPs are also provided government housing, cars, chauffeurs and other perks like unlimited air and rail travel passes.
But at the crux of the cynicism among the public is the notion that the MPs are focuses of corruption, and that they benefit financially from their positions, making their salaries mostly irrelevant.
About 315 of the 543 lawmakers in the lower house are crorepatis (people with assets over Rs 10,000,000, or more than $215,000). In fact, nearly 20 percent of MPs are worth over Rs 5 crores. The Congress Party, which heads the national government, has nearly 137 crorepati MPs.
There has been talk that an increase in compensation should be accompanied with an increase in accountability, and an evaluation of performance. Columnist and author Shobhaa De made a good point during a TV discussion when she said MPs must be deserving before they can desire.