New Delhi, Feb. 9: Starting this month, members of Parliament will find they can no longer go on 'pleasure trips' paid for by the public.
MPs regularly go on 'study tours' citing the work of a department standing committee and get some public sector undertaking to pay for the visit. Often, family or friends accompany them.
The Lok Sabha has 16 department-related standing committees and the Rajya Sabha has 8. These committees have 30 members each. Sometimes, entire committees decide to go on a long-distance visit and enjoy the hospitality of PSUs.
Taking a grim view of this waste of taxpayers' money, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, in consultation with Rajya Sabha chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, has formulated fresh guidelines that will come into effect with the budget session beginning this month-end, Parliament sources said.
The committees have been asked to undertake tours only when it is absolutely necessary. In cases where they could summon an officer or two to Delhi instead, they have been asked to do so.
Sources said Chatterjee consulted leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee before finalising the rules.
The new curbs are:
• Parliamentary committee members should not take their wives, children or friends on study tours or any department-related work in other parts of the country. A companion will be allowed only if a member is sick. But all expenses, including hotel charges, will then have to be paid for by the member.
• Only a small sub-committee or study group should go on a tour and report its findings to the whole committee. All members should not take off together. At present, sometimes even after the visit of a committee, another group is sent.
• The tours should be limited to one every year. The old rules permitted two tours a year for every committee.
• PSUs or organisations that the committee is to examine during the tour should not be asked to pay for the stay. Members could ask the ministries concerned or state governments to provide them accommodation in government guesthouses or, at the most, in government-owned hotels.
• Arrangements should be dignified, not ostentatious.
• Instead of every MP getting a car from the PSU or the state government concerned, at least two should share a car.
• Committee members or accompanying officers should not ask for any particular hotel or five-star comforts.
If a member violates these stipulations, they would be debarred from undertaking any committee tour thereafter.
Lok Sabha secretariat sources said the Speaker, who took the initiative to push through these guidelines, is practising what he preaches.
To set an example, Chatterjee has curtailed his tours. Since taking over last year, the Speaker has only made three tours that were considered necessary ' to Canada, Switzerland and Japan. Also, he did not avail of the daily allowance of $75 and returned it to the Government of India, saying all his needs were taken care of by the host nation.
Chatterjee also makes it a point to buy tickets for his wife and pays for her other expenses whenever she accompanies him, the sources said, hoping that others would emulate him.