Source: 
India today.in
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-parliamentarians-vip-treatment-air-ports-private-airlines-freebies/1/341075.html
Date: 
01.02.2014
City: 
New Delhi

Indian parliamentarians are a special breed, always on the lookout for preferential treatment. In the era of the aam aadmi, the latest in their list of demands is special treatment at airports. Some of our lawmakers were unhappy with the treatment meted out to them by private airlines and wanted the protocol that is extended to them by Air India, followed by private carriers.

The wish list included advance notice on flight delays, priority for check-in, boarding and security clearances, besides lounge access and complementary snacks - privileges accorded by the national carrier, Air India.

However, keeping in mind the sentiment of the aam aadmi and the Supreme Court's stricture against VIP culture, the central government rejected some these demands of the khas aadmi.








Activists differ

Scholars and activists working on the subject of political reforms feel the lawmakers should only enjoy privileges that enhance their job of lawmaking.












In 2010, when the government was pressing for austerity measures, our MPs gave themselves a huge salary hike.

"Access to a lounge at airports and getting free tea and snacks there certainly does not improve their lawmaking skills," said Professor Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms.

"The mindset of the people who get elected is that of rulers. The mindset of being special and better is the problem," Chhokar added.

While some parliamentarians are of the opinion that no freebies should be handed over, the real picture is different.

"People's representative should be only given workrelated facilities, not anything more than that. Not at all more privileges," said Ananth Kumar, BJP MP and the party's senior general secretary.'

"It is time the top leadership of the main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, including their presidents, prime ministerial candidates and chief campaigners rise to the occasion by announcing the withdrawal of a royal treatments so far enjoyed by elected representatives, several of which cost the exchequer heavily," Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Agarwal said.

Benefits

In 2010, when inflation was on a high and the government was pressing for austerity measures, the MPs gave a big push to their salary structure and the benefits enjoyed by them.

They gave themselves a threefold hike, increasing their salaries from Rs.16,000 to Rs.50,000 and the constituency allowance was doubled to Rs.45,000.

"Every five years we get a salary hike, whereas people working in private sector get it annually. I don't understand that when an MP gets reimbursements for official work how can people call it special treatment," Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit said.

In addition, parliamentarians are entitled to an interest free loan of Rs.4 lakh for the purchase of a vehicle, which was increased from Rs.1 lakh. The monthly pension for former MPs was also increased from Rs.8,000 to Rs.20,000 with an additional hike of Rs.1,500 annually.

Lawmakers are entitled to 4,000 kilo litres of water every year which is much more than the 240 kilo litres promised by Kejriwal to the aam aadmi in Delhi. Even the 50 per cent reduction on offer to the people of Delhi for 400 units of electricity usage is no match to what the parliamentarians get - 50,000 units free electricity all year.

They also enjoy the privilege of getting 34 business class air tickets for domestic travel in addition to a pass that entitles them to unlimited rail travel in AC first class along with their spouses.

It is widely felt that in the environment of transparency, accountability and a cry to do away with VVIP culture, parliamentarians need to give up some of these privileges.

"A list of royal facilities being presently provided to parliamentarians and state legislators should be drawn and made public with orders given to curtail these to the maximum extent possible," Agarwal added.

RTI reveals privileged world of lawmakers

Using the Right to Information (RTI) Act, activists have managed to dig out data on huge amount of expenses incurred on parliamentarians, which, surprisingly, have not been paid for.

The RTI has been used effectively to put into public domain large-scale appointments made by the Lok Sabha Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Leader of Opposition, chief whips of all major political parties and chairpersons of parliamentary committees under the discretionary quota.

An RTI query by activist Subhash Agarwal revealed the names and salaries of those appointed under the discretionary quota and who are working in Parliament. The RTI revealed that nearly 70 people were given jobs under the discretionary quota.

Besides, RTI queries in the past have revealed the names of several MPs who have continued to receive immunity from their landline phones getting disconnected despite the non-payment of bills.

There have been also cases when parliamentarians have gone beyond their entitled limit of phone, electricity and water usage but have not paid the outstanding amount for months.

For the aam aadmi, a delay in payment of these bills would automatically lead to disconnection of these amenities, but the rule does not stand for our lawmakers.

An RTI application has also revealed that MPs owe Rs.14-15 crore to the governmentowned ITDC hotels for accommodation. There have been instances when our parliamentarians have overstayed at these five-star accommodation after an official trip and billed the amount to the government exchequer.

Another RTI filed by Agarwal in 2012 had revealed how MPs went on study tours on the exchequer's money at a time when the government was following an austerity measure.

They were accommodated in five-star hotels in tourist destinations such as Leh, Goa, Dalhousie, Shimla, Port Blair, Srinagar and Jodhpur.

In addition, MPs are entitled to go abroad as part of these so called study tours. Such trips are not restricted to MPs alone as MLAs to 'join in the fun'.

With inputs from Mail Today in New Delhi

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