The lawmakers' fee

Published : May 20, 2005 00:00 IST

Steep increases in the salaries and allowances leave room for criticism that Members of Parliament and State Legislatures vote generously for themselves while the basic needs of the people remain unmet. A high-level national commission should consider changes in their remuneration.

EFFORTS at increasing the salaries, allowances and facilities of legislators have always invited criticism from various quarters. Not only in India, but in many other countries, fixing the salaries and allowances of legislators has been a very sensitive issue, which is vulnerable to the accusation that law-makers become a law unto themselves in voting generous increases, now and then, in their remuneration. It has been reported that at a recent meeting the Speaker had with parliamentary party leaders in the Lok Sabha, a consensus was arrived at to form an independent body to recommend salaries of Members of Parliament.

In the direct democracy that was practised in the Athenian city-state, it was the duty of every citizen to participate in the affairs of government. Pericles, the Athenian statesman, in his famous funeral oration to honour Athens' war dead, observed: "We are the only people who think him that does not meddle in the affairs of the government not only indolent, but good for nothing." There was no question of payment to a citizen for attending ekkleisa, the general assembly.

When the territorial extent and size of the populace grew to large dimensions under a government, the system of direct democracy gave way to a representative form of governance. The representatives sent by the people were to be maintained by the people concerned. In the early periods of Parliament in England, payment to a Member of the House of Commons was held to be the responsibility of his constituency. It was said that if a member got paid, he was lucky. Before the 19th century, Members of Commons were largely drawn from the rich and feudal families. In 1906, Members of the Labour Party who entered Parliament in significant numbers for the first time were full-timers and could not carry on their responsibilities without some provisions being made for their upkeep.

Hence, the first step in this direction was taken in the British Parliament in 1911 to make an annual payment of 400. Lloyd George, then Chancellor of Exchequer, said: "It is not a remuneration, it is not recompense, it is not even a salary. It is just an allowance, to think the minimum allowance, to enable men to come here, men who would render incalculable service to the state."

In India, the Congress movement was against the high pay and fabulous perks given to the Viceroy, Governors and other officials of the British regime. A resolution at the 1931 Karachi Conference of the Congress, presumably drafted by Mahatma Gandhi, demanded: "No servant of the state, other than specially employed experts and the like, to be paid above certain fixed figure which should not ordinarily exceed Rs.500 per month."

Gandhiji did not believe that substantial payment of salary and allowances would prevent corruption. He wrote: "Giving high salaries for fear of spread of corruption would be, as the saying goes, killing the buffalo for its skin. In other words, it means that for preventing a man from taking a bribe occasionally, he should be paid a permanent bribe in the form of a big salary" (Navajeevan, July 26, 1931).

In the 1946 general elections, the Congress party came out successful to form governments in many provinces. When a correspondent raised a question about the monthly salary of Rs.200 and daily allowance of Rs.50 paid to the Assembly Members in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhiji wrote: "In my opinion, the salary and allowances drawn by the gentlemen of the various Assemblies are out of all proportion to the services they render to the country. The scales fixed are on the English pattern, not at all compatible with the income of this country - the poorest in the world. Therefore, the answer I suggest is that the Ministers should, with the consent of the Assemblies, reduce the whole scale in accordance with requirements and, in the meantime, either the amount taken should be handed to the party to which the Member belongs, drawing what the party has fixed or, if that be not possible, drawing what his conscience thinks just for himself and his family and devoting the balance to some items of the constructive programme or some such public activity."

THE members of the Constituent Assembly (December 1946) were paid a daily allowance of Rs.45 in continuation of the scale adopted by the Central Legislative Assembly of British India.

When the Constituent Assembly took up for consideration the provision for salaries and allowances of MPs, there was an amendment to fix the monthly salary at about Rs.750 to Rs.1,000. Biswanath Das (a Member from Orissa), a staunch Gandhian, opposed the suggestion: "I am one of those Members who chose to draw only Rs.30, I still feel that Rs.45 a day is too much for a Member. I, for myself, a worker, do not need Rs.45 per day. I know there are members in my province who draw their salaries as members of the Assembly and straightaway hand it over to the Secretary of their District Congress Committee and receive a scale as fixed by the Congress Committee in preference to the pay that they draw and they go on as whole-time workers" (Constituent Assembly Debates, May 20, 1949).

In recognition of the `general economic condition in India and also the prevailing financial stringency', V.I. Muniswami Pillai (Madras) moved a motion on October 17, 1949, imposing a voluntary cut of Rs.5 per diem. The Assembly unanimously accepted the motion of Muniswami Pillai.

Article 106 as passed by Constituent Assembly reads: "Members of either House of Parliament shall be entitled to receive such salaries and allowances as may from time to time be determined by Parliament by law and until provision in that respect is so made, allowances at such rates and upon such conditions as were immediately before the commencement of this Constitution applicable in the case of Members of the Constituent Assembly of the Dominion of India." Similar is the provision of Article 195 in respect of the State legislators.

The rate of daily allowance of Rs.40 was in force for Members of the Provisional Parliament and the first Lok Sabha until the passage of the Salaries and Allowances Act in April 1954.

Speaker G.V. Mavalankar appointed in June 1952 a Joint Committee of the two Houses to consider the salaries and allowances of MPs. In its report in August 1952, the Joint Committee recommended a daily allowance of Rs.35 without any salary or other remuneration. The recommendation was not acceptable to many Members and the House referred the question back to the Committee. In its second report in April 1954, the Joint Committee recommended either a salary of Rs.300 per mensem plus a daily allowance of Rs.20 or an alternative daily allowance of Rs.40. The Members did not accept the recommendations of the Committee, and proceeded to pass the Salaries and Allowances of Members of Parliament Act 1954 with amendments. The Act stipulated that MPs be paid a monthly salary of Rs.400 along with a daily allowance of Rs.21 during sessions. When the entitlement of pension was included in 1976, the Act's title was changed to Salaries, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act 1954.

The monthly salary of an MP was increased to Rs.500 in 1964, Rs.750 in 1983, Rs.1,000 in 1985, Rs.1,500 in 1988, Rs.4,000 in 1998 and to the present scale of Rs.12,000 in 2001. Similarly, the daily allowance was increased to Rs.31 in 1964, Rs.51 in 1969, Rs.75 in 1983, Rs.150 in 1988, Rs.200 in 1993 (subject to signing the Attendance Register), Rs.400 in 1998 and to the present scale of Rs.500 in 2001.

Apart from the salaries and daily allowances, MPs enjoy, at present, travelling allowance, a rent-free flat, free transit by train, Constituency Allowance (Rs.10,000), Office Expenses Allowances (Rs.14,000), pension, a computer, free supply of electricity and free telephone calls upto a certain limit.

TO be fair, an MP has enormous responsibilities and a heavy work schedule in the House, in committees, in his/her constituency and in various parts of the country wherever and whenever a serious situation arises, requiring immediate attention. There is every justification for raising the remuneration of MPs in the face of rising costs of living and the expanding volume of responsibilities that they have to shoulder. But, hurried and steep increases in the salaries and allowances give the impression to the public that the Members vote generously for themselves while many of the basic needs of people remain unattended to for a long time.

For instance, when the monthly salary was raised to Rs.12,000 in 2001, the three-fold increase attracted huge protests from all quarters. Mrinal Gore, former Member of the Maharashtra Assembly (1972-77 and 1985-90), Member of the Lok Sabha and Union Minister of State for Finance (1977-80), strongly opposed it saying that in several States, government employees had not received their salaries for months together. She wondered how they would feel when they learnt that while the government had no money for them, it had ample funds to effect steep hikes in MPs' salaries.

Some Members demanded that consideration of such increases should be left to an independent body. In fact, one of the terms of reference of the Joint Committee appointed in June 1993 was to suggest a mechanism by which the remuneration and the facilities of the MPs could be fixed without the need for them to vote such facilities and remuneration for themselves. It is regrettable that the committee did not consider this term of reference.

AS remuneration of MPs has always been a contentious issue, many countries have established independent commissions to study the issue.

In the United Kingdom, the Parliament established by law in 1971 the Review Body on Top Salaries, which was renamed the Review Body on Senior Salaries in 1993. It is an independent authority consisting of non-Members who have distinguished themselves in high positions in judicial and managerial offices. It advises the Prime Minister from time to time on the pay and pensions of MPs, Ministers, defence personnel, judicial officers, senior civil officers and other such high posts of pubic appointment. The Review Body takes into account evidences from the beneficiaries and from the public on the wider economic considerations and affordability of its recommendations. The recommendations are presented to Parliament in the form of an Amending Bill and passed after a full debate in the House.

MPs in the U.K. are subject to the normal PAYE (Pay As You Earn) taxation scheme where tax is deducted from the pay by the employer. PAYE tax is made up of income tax and national insurance that apply to all employed people in the U.K.

In the United States, the Members of the Continental Congress (1774) were paid by their respective States. To give more independence to the Members, the Constitution desired that the federal government would pay their salaries. James Madison, the fourth U.S. President who is known as the Father of the American Constitution, proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution of which 10 were ratified by the States to form the Bill of Rights. Of the two amendments rejected by the States, one related to the salaries and allowances of the Members of Congress, which was as follows: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."

The First Congress (1789-1791) paid the Members $6 per diem which worked out to about $1,000 a year. This was considered to be higher than the annual income of an average citizen. There were accusations that the Members were dragging on the business of the legislature just to collect more remuneration. To correct the allegations, Congress voted in 1816 for an annual salary of $1,500, which infuriated the voters so much that most of the sitting members were defeated in the next election.

However, Congressmen had to be paid salaries and allowances that were increased regularly according to the cost of living. But an Ethics Code adopted by the Congress in 1977 prohibited Members from earning more then 15 per cent of their congressional salaries in outside income. By 1989, Members were receiving about $89,000 a year. In 1989, the House voted to raise it to $1,25,000. The steep hike roused the people to recall Madison's Amendment and the States responded by ratifying it as the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring that any hike in the pay of Congressmen shall take effect after intervention of an election to the House of Representatives. Thus an amendment introduced in 1789 got ratified to become a constitutional provision in 1992. Constitutionally, any increase in the remuneration of Members, even if passed unanimously by both Houses of Congress, will come into force only after an election of the Representatives, which is held once in two years. However, under the system of Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), the remunerations are increased, now and then, taking into account the increase in the cost of living. The salary of Congressmen is adjusted automatically to offset the rising cost of living.

In Australia, Members of the Senate and the House of the Representatives are entitled to a base salary, an electorate allowance and a number of other allowances. The base salaries of members are tied to the salaries of officers of the Australian Public Service. The electorate allowance, which does not form part of the salary, is made for expenses associated with the electorate and depends on the size of the electorate. Other benefits and allowances relating to travel, postage, telephone, accommodation and office expenses are recommended by the independent Remuneration Tribunal that also determines the salary entitlements of a wide range of public officials such as judges, magistrates, members of Anti-Corruption Commission, CEOs in the Special Division of Public Service.

In South Africa, Article 219 (1) of the Constitution has established an independent commission to make recommendations concerning the salaries, allowances and benefits of members of the National Assembly and permanent members of the National Council of Provinces and to fix the upper limit of salaries, allowances or benefits of members of provincial legislatures, members of executive councils and members of municipal councils of different categories. Parliament may pass legislation only after considering the recommendations of the commission.

In Canada, the Parliament of Canada Act provides that Parliament appoint a commission to review compensation to parliamentarians after each general election. The recommendations of a Commission to Review Allowances of Parliamentarians are considered through a Bill by Parliament.

In Germany, Article 48(3) of the Basic Law provides the Members of Bundestag (Parliament) with `remuneration adequate to ensure their independence'. The monthly salary is taxable and in addition, the Members receive tax-free monthly allowances to cover expenses of accommodation in the capital, travel, stationary, mail, telephone, contribution to the party funds, secretaries, research assistants and office in their constituencies.

In France, salaries of Members of Parliament are calculated in relation to the salaries of the highest paid employees of the civil service and the amount is reviewed regularly and automatically as the civil service remuneration is evolved.

In Japan, Members of Diet (Parliament) are paid no less than the maximum salary of a regular government official. They also get government subsidy to employ two secretaries and receive financial aid for correspondence.

There are different objectives in deciding the quantum of remuneration to the legislators: to give them adequate salary and allowances to enable them in discharging their legislative duties and public service efficiently and `to live at a level consistent with the dignity of the service'. The salary should not be too high so as to induce persons to enter the legislature for the purpose of earning a lot more than what they can earn outside. The objective in some affluent countries has been to enable the legislature to compete effectively with other enterprises and to attract persons of ability and proficiency.

I feel that there should be a high-level National Commission set up by law in India to consider the changes in the remuneration and facilities of Members of Parliament and State Legislatures and senior officials in public service. The commission may consider the views from beneficiaries and from public and submit its report to the legislature for enactment. The commission should base its recommendations on the principles of transparency, accountability and fairness. While the allowances of the legislators may be adjusted automatically to offset the rising cost of living, any steep increase in the remuneration, though passed by the legislatures, should come into effect only after general elections.

Era Sezhiyan is a former Member of Parliament.

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