Reigning in Tyranny of the Elected

Reigning in the tyranny of the elected

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

Let me start by reminding you of what the famous British musician Ray Davies said Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep”. An average Indian politician not only fits this description but seems to have added some other obnoxious dimensions to his personality as well.

The arrogance and brashness of our elected representatives seem to be developing into a cult phenomenon. Time and again we have Members of Parliament (MPs) or Members of State Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) flaunting their extra constitutional powers to have their way. From instigating communal riots to holding up flights on runways or slapping humble government servants, the list of their unlawful acts and conduct is endless. It is a sad commentary on the quality of elected representatives that the nation produces. The fact that politics in India has become synonym with corruption, hooliganism, brashness, muscle power, vote banks, minority appeasement and exploitation of caste/ OBCs status of voters is indeed very worrying for the nation. If these problems related to lack of political propriety are not corrected on priority, it is unlikely that the nation will scale new heights of progress or development that are so dear to your heart. The question is will you bell the cat?

Indian-politicians

In Indian political environment dialogue or coercion will not solve the problem because the thickness an average politician’s skin would put the entire Assam rhinoceros race to shame. It is a pity that the government literally pays for each aspect of an elected representative’s day to day life. It is also no secret that in most cases only a small part of these expenses actually relate to his work for the people who elected him or for the nation (or state) as a whole. This may sound a bit harsh but it is actually true. In such a scenario there is a need to adopt a few drastic measures with a view to clip the wings of political class on one hand and to make them more accountable to their electorate on the other. Here are a few suggestions in this regard for your kind consideration:

Salary, Daily allowance & Constituency Allowance: A MP draws a salary every month just like any government servant. However his presence in office or his place of work is not mandatory. This needs to be corrected. A cut off of 90% attendance in the parliament when in session must be made applicable to all MPs. In addition he must be present within his parliamentary constituency geographical limits for another 80% of the balance of the year. Suitable allowance should be made for any special committee or delegation related work in the capital or elsewhere. This will leave about 60 days for his other work that should include party work outside the constituency, unproductive work (demonstrations, dharnas, strikes etc) and some genuine personal engagements. If there is any deviation, his salary and daily allowance should be suitably debited and monthly constituency allowance withdrawn for the number of days of absence from the constituency. For regular and serious defaulters the election commission should be authorised to revoke their election.

Travel: It is indeed unimaginable that an MP requires 34 single journey air ticks per year that he can also use for any companion or spouse. These are in addition to travel costs for attending parliament when in session. This rule is absurd to say the least. Imagine a MP from a constituency in Haryana enjoying such a privilege when his work within his constituency or for attending Parliament does not even warrant a single air journey. So where do all these authorised tickets go? It will be naive to assume that our parliamentarian from Haryana does not use them and allows them to lapse. Similarly unlimited train travel across the country too is not required. If an MP has to go for any party work to any place, it is not the nation’s responsibility since that has nothing to do with his official work. Same logic goes for any demonstration or dharna that the honourable MP may want to be part of in at any other place within the country. Therefore he has to do that on his own expense and not burden the nation. Fair estimates of all the travel allowances that an MP needs are:

  • Air / Train travel to attend parliament, when in session, for self and one companion/ assistant subject to maintaining 90% attendance.

  • Unlimited train / road travel within his constituency on a liberal scale with up to two assistants (including spouse) at any one time.

  • Four times a year air / train travel to his state capital and two times a year to national capital (with one assistant) for any official work that he may have with the government.

  • For any official committee or delegation related work, suitable travel costs be allowed on need basis.

  • Since an MP’s home town will invariably fall within his constituency, leave travel allowance will not be required in most cases.

Accommodation: The government should allot a furnished apartment to each MP in New Delhi at subsidised rates for the duration when parliament is in session and give liberal house rent allowance for a house within his constituency where the MP can either live in his own house or rent as the case may be. The rent for apartment in New Delhi should include power, water and other charges. For his main home within his constituency he should pay his bills as any other citizen of the country. There is no logic is allotting bungalows or apartments to MPs in New Delhi since in all fairness they should be spending bulk of the time within their constituencies. For any other duty period in Delhi, the MP can always use his state guest house, MP Hostel accommodation or an apartment from the pool available for MPs. Onetime furniture and furnishing allowance of Rs 150,000 for one house in his constituency for the full term be given to each MP. No other allowance like washing allowance needs to be given for stay in New Delhi since each MP already gets a special daily allowance of Rs 2,000 while attending parliament in New Delhi.

Office Accommodation: A MP need not have any permanent office in New Delhi as his duties do not warrant such a need. However he should be authorised an office premises within his constituency as an extension of his home or any other suitable accommodation from where he can discharge his duties. Cost of such an office in terms of rent and other facilities should be borne by the centre with some ceiling on the total expenses that should be equal to the constituency allowance that is allowed per month (Rs 45,000).

Secretary & Stationary Allowance: To be paid as long as a properly qualified office secretary is appointed and bills produced for stationary expenses.

Security: No MP should be allowed to move in a cavalcade of more than two vehicles anywhere in the country including his constituency. Official security cover to be provided only to MPs, with genuine threat to their life, based on the assignment that he or she may be charged with. Other MPs may hire their own security, without any cost reimbursement from the centre or state, based on individual threat perception.

General:

  • In case a MP travels to any place other than his constituency he must not become a state guest automatically unless he is invited by the state or deputed by the centre for any specific purpose. Whenever a MP travels in his personal capacity, he must remain a normal citizen of the nation without the need to flaunt his status

  • MP’s must be asked to respect the government functionaries with whom they may have to deal within their constituencies and occasionally outside their constituencies. All such contact should be with proper intimation and appointment rather than on the principle of barging in and demanding immediate attention

  • Under no circumstances should government servants be asked to visit or report to any MP at his home or office for any briefing of discussion

  • Each government department and official should be asked to maintain a record of any request or favour asked for by an MP during the course of his or her official duties. All such demands must be in writing and disposed off as per law of the land without the need to succumb under any pressure

  • No MP should have any involvement with award of contracts or routine government work If any request or interference in this regard is received or noticed, it must be reported to the Speaker of the House for suitable disciplinary action

  • It should not be part of official protocol for various government functionaries to be present at the site where a MP may be visiting

The above measures if instituted will benefit the nation in the following manner:

  • No MP will unnecessarily camp in New Delhi

  • MP’s attendance in parliament will improve and encourage them to take part in the proceedings

  • MPs will spend large part of their time in their constituencies and hopefully work towards improving the same with greater accountability to the people

  • Prevent the MPs from occupying and holding government accommodation in Lutyens Zone in New Delhi and thereby spending most of their time in Delhi instead of their constituency

  • Reduce the pressure on government accommodation pool within New Delhi

  • Reduce unnecessary travel of MPs to places with which they have no official connect

  • Reduce the VIP movement and Lal Bati culture in Delhi and other places

  • Help in professionalising the work culture of elected representatives

  • Reduction in cost to the central exchequer and savings for the government

  • Reduction in unnecessary ‘hangers on’ that every MP seems to cultivate and revel in. Such ‘hangers on’ are invariably rabble rousers and tend to take the law in their own hands under the patronage of the MP.

  • Reduce interference by an MP in constituencies other than his own

It is imperative that the elected representatives are brought down to ‘mother earth’ as today once elected they assume they are above the normal law of the land. Such tendencies and mind set seem to be scaling new heights with each passing year since there are no effective checks and balances in place. The fact that as many as 442 MPs out of a total of 543 MPs are millionaires as per their disclosed assets, there is really no need to give them a host of freebies and other privileges, particularly when the same do not add value to their deliverables. Most have businesses or other means of incomes that they continue to pursue even as elected representatives. It goes without saying that the MLAs, Municipal Councillors and elected representatives of Zilla Parishads too need to be dealt with in a similar manner for optimum results. If such measures make the position of an elected representative less attractive then so be it. Hopefully in future only genuinely interested people will contest elections who sincerely want to work for the people in their area. Hopefully candidates will stop seeing politics as a tool to achieve positions in society where they feel they are above law and not accountable to anyone. Once the political glitterati in the country are put in their correct niche in the society, other government functionaries will be forced to follow suit since they will have no other choice.

Best regards,

Yours sincerely,

Saroj Chadha

New Delhi

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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