Dear Sumitra Mahajan
It is oddly gratifying to know that our tax money will no longer be spent on easing the dietary expenses of our MPs, at least when they eat from the Parliament canteen.
By that rate, the roll-back of canteen subsidy, which according to a report was more than Rs 60 crore in the last five years and has been increasing by at least Rs 3 crore every year due to price rise, is welcome.
But, my endorsement of this decision goes only as far as the MPs paying as much money for the food they eat (Rs 30 for a veg thali and Rs 40 for chicken curry). But the fact of the matter is that most of our parliamentarians, if they choose to turn up when the House is in session, do not eat from the canteen.
According to a report, the majority of them go back to their official residences—mostly at a stone's throw distance away from Parliament—to have home-cooked food.
According to a report, only 9 per cent of the canteen subsidy is consumed by our MPs when parliament is in session. The major share—around 42 per cent—is consumed by parliamentary staff and security personnel.
Naturally, the decision is going to affect the staff more than the MPs, who enjoy an awful lot of other perks all paid for by the tax payers. There are several government offices that still serve food in their canteens at a subsidised price. So, why should the parliamentary staff suffer? On that count, I disagree with abolishing of canteen subsidy.
Give it up
I welcome Speaker Sumitra Mahajan's decision to abolish subsidy in the Parliament canteen and to allow it to operate on 'no-profit, no-loss basis'. To start with, why do our MPs even need subsidised food? A vegetarian thali for Rs 18, a non-vegetarian thali for Rs 33, and a portion of dal for Rs 2 sound like a joke, especially when commoners cannot even afford to look at pulses in the markets. Although the revised prices of Rs 30 for a vegetarian thali and chicken curry for Rs 40 are still much lower than the market rates, revoking the annual subsidy bill of Rs 16 crore still is a good step towards setting up an order.
Also, lets not forget that the subsidised rates in Parliament canteen are for a developing country's lawmakers who are awaiting acceptance of parliamentary affairs ministry's proposal to increase the salaries of MPs by 100 per cent. Imagine once it gets approved, the MPs would be taking home a salary of Rs 2.8 lakh a month in the kind of appraisal that certainly doesn't happen in the world outside Parliament. On what grounds can they demand a three-course meal at Rs 61 and be shy of paying Rs 90 for the same?
I also welcome the government's decision to discontinue subsidy on cooking gas for families with annual taxable income of more than Rs 10 lakh. Non-poor sections should give up a few privileges to pave way for underprivileged.
Your decision to abolish subsidy on food in the Parliament canteen is indeed a welcome move. The lawmakers had been so far enjoying sumptuous meals at highly subsidised rates when the whole country was reeling under inflation, especially in the prices of basic food articles.
Use of public money to subsidise amenities is highly condemnable. However, it is wrong to blame only the MPs. Bureaucrats, visitors and journalists are also using the canteen facility.
Now the state assemblies should also follow suit and come up with such bold decisions. West Bengal has already taken some measures and the MLAs in Kolkata now pay standard prices for their meals.
As disruptions and protests became an everyday affair of Parliament, it is high time you took another big decision. Parliamentarians should face loss of pay if the House is not functioning on a working day.