If millionaire Indian MPs won’t give up government subsidies, why should I?

Quartz india
Quartz india

Following prime minister Narendra Modi’s request, more than 300,000 Indians have given up their gas subsidies. The intention behind Modi’s request was clear: The government wants to do away with subsidies for well-off people, and spend that additional resource on the marginalised section of the country’s population.

Looking at the positive response from such a huge section, and the euphoria surrounding this move, one can guess many more are going to forego their gas subsidies in the coming days, but I have a concern. Why must the giving up start from citizens—and not leaders?

Let’s look at some of the most ridiculous subsidies that our representatives get.

Subsidy in the parliament canteen

When Modi recently dined at the parliament canteen in Delhi, he paid just Rs29 (less than 50 cents) for a filling meal. Here’s a rate card of the parliament canteen put out by Mirror of India last year.

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This rate card was published in July 2014, so the prices seem to have increased. However, Rs29 for a thali and a fruit salad is still a dream in Delhi or even the rest of the country.

The parliament canteen is run by the Indian Railways, whose train supply department charges passengers Rs60 for a small packet of vegetable biryani, irrespective of the class of travel.

Free access to toll roads

All members of parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs) have free access to all toll roads, even privately managed ones, across the country. The primary argument in favour of this access is that representatives need to travel to their constituencies quite often. However, every MP and MLA has “constituency allowance” to address this expense.

Even if one were to assume that the “constituency allowance” doesn’t suffice, why must the free access extend to all toll roads across the nation? Better than an all-access pass, it is better to have a reimbursement scheme where an MP or MLA has to first pay the toll and is reimbursed upon verification.

Do these MPs hail from a poor background?

“The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report on the number of crorepati (millionaire) MPs in the Lok Sabha throws up some startling revelations—82% MPs in this Lok Sabha are crorepatis. That is 442 MPs to be precise.”

Also, the average asset of Lok Sabha MPs in 2014 is worth over Rs14.70 crore, according to the ADR report.

I am all in for non-deserving people giving up their subsidies, but I believe the giving up must start with the representatives. They are compensated for every aspect of their work, with special additional compensation for session days. So, they are the least deserving of the subsidies that they get.

Despite all of these shortcomings of our representatives, the people of India have been very generous. It’s time that the MPs and MLAs join the club.

First published on SaddaHaq. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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