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Panel to spare MPs salary red faces

New Delhi, Aug. 24: Members of Parliament may no longer have to raise their own salaries and perks from time to time, inviting embarrassing public criticism.

A panel, probably made up of the central vigilance commissioner, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the Reserve Bank governor, could do the dirty work for them.

The three-member commission will have the job of periodically recommending to the Centre that it “revise” MPs’ salaries and allowances. The Union law ministry has drawn up a bill providing for the commission to be formed, and the parliamentary affairs ministry has vetted the draft. It will be placed before the Union cabinet for approval, probably at its next meeting.

The move follows Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s suggestion that MPs should avoid being seen as giving themselves raises.

The idea, mooted during the previous session of Parliament, found overwhelming support from the floor leaders.

The commission, whose members will have five-year tenures, can also make recommendations to the Centre on other issues relating to MPs if they are brought before it.

The draft bill provides for a fundamental amendment to a 1954 act relating to MPs’ salaries and allowances. These are now revised from time to time by Parliament on the basis of recommendations made by a joint House committee. Each time the pay and perks are revised, the 1954 act has to be amended.

The last amendment was carried out in 2001, fixing MPs’ monthly salary at Rs 12,000 and their daily allowance during a Parliament session at Rs 500. The lawmakers enjoy several other allowances and benefits, too.

“Every time our salaries are nominally raised, there is criticism that MPs are concerned only about themselves. This will be over,” a second-term Congress Rajya Sabha member said.

This fear of public criticism has, over a period of time, meant that Indian MPs are among the lowest-paid in the world. The rise in their pay ' from Rs 400 a month plus a daily allowance of Rs 21 about 50 years ago ' has not kept pace with the general hike in salaries in the country, an official said.

“An independent, expert commission alone can remove the anomalies and undertake a detailed review of other allowances and perks in a credible and transparent manner,” the Congress leader said.

A meeting of the business advisory committee today asked parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad when the draft bill might get cabinet approval, but he avoided giving a definite date.

“The minister was non-committal,” a source said.

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