RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD…
The other night on a live Times Now TV debate on whether the country needs to spend hundreds of crores of tax payers money on a new Parliament building, I was pitted against a few MPs. My stand was simple. If the present building is indeed dilapidated or faces security risks, by all means let the highest legislative body have a new space. During the course of arguments, one of the hon’ble members of parliament revealed that during a recent downpour, drops of water kept falling from the ceiling, that some rows have very little leg room and so on. I found that line unacceptable and insensitive, coming as I do from a city that had just witnessed unprecedented monsoon fury in which thousands of people, from every strata, had lost their homes and all their belongings, including things that no money can buy. The contrast was stark. ‘We The People’ had our homes submerged under upto 18 feet of water and those who are meant to represent us want a new building because rain drops were falling on their head? If the roof is leaking, why not just fix the problem? If space is a constraint, why not use a little ergonomics? Do these hiccups warrant a new building?
The present Parliament House is an 88 year old heritage structure. It’s a repository of history, a symbol of national pride. You don’t need to be a conservationist to know that heritage structures must be maintained and not abandoned. And 88 years may be old for a politician, not for a building! The US Capitol Hill is over 200 years old. The Palace of Westminster in the UK has been renovated and retained for centuries.
The proposal from the Lok Sabha Speaker is not unprecedented. A similar idea was mooted during the previous dispensation. The reasons cited are not convincing. Is the need urgent? Even if one goes by the Heritage Grade -1 structure building rules, the life of the present building is a 100 years. The seating capacity of the building is 550. The present strength of the Lok Sabha is 545. By the 91st Constitution amendment, the freeze on the strength of the law making body ends only in 2026. The explanation to clause 3 of Art 81 of the Constitution stipulates the State wise representation based on population figures. The next census is due in 2021. So what’s the hurry, folks?
In any profession, perks and allowances are linked to performance. With reports about walkouts, disruptions, unsatisfactory attendance and participation in debates having become a template, wouldn’t the heartburn over a proposal for a 100% salary hike for MPs be justifiable? In the just concluded winter session, the Rajya Sabha is reported to have worked for 51% of the scheduled time, its average productivity has been pegged at 61% with the passage of 7 bills, 6 without discussion. 14 Ministries did not answer any starred questions during Question Hour. Each disruption costs the exchequer a staggering 2 crore a day or 25 lakh per hour. Shouldn’t the focus be on performance inside Parliament – better attendance, more active participation, more eloquent speeches, more issues raised, more questions answered, less walkouts and disruptions, rather than the building? We have school children sitting under trees with no classrooms but determined to get educated. We have poor students sitting under roadside lamp posts to study. We have elderly citizens shivering on pavements in the biting cold without blankets. We have child labourers scratching around dustbins for morsels of food. So much for our priorities.
Aside of the fancy perks – travel, telephone bills and the like, what about the subsidised parliament canteen rates – soup and toast at 8 rupees, veg thali at 18 rupees, mutton curry at 20 rupees, fruit salad at 10 rupees? Just to refresh our memory, for us lesser mortals, didn’t the price of Toor Dal shoot up by 100% to Rs.200 per kilogram? And now the government wants to snatch away LPG subsidy from those whose annual income is over ten lakh.
I’m just wondering about the timing of the new building proposal. Why not do it 6 months before elections? Voters can discuss it directly with the candidates as they go around canvassing. Meanwhile, how about donating umbrellas to them. After all, they couldn’t be used during the floods. Before you do that, ask yourself: what’s my MP’s name?
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)