Subsidy burp: You're giving it up and they're eating it up

Give it up.... Come Join Us in Nation Building... be a part of this nation building exercise by giving up... LPG subsidy.

By Ananya Sengupta
  • Published 24.06.15
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Give it up.... Come Join Us in Nation Building... be a part of this nation building exercise by giving up... LPG subsidy.

Minister's message, www.givitup.in

New Delhi, June 23: The "Give it up" slogan was apparently coined by none other than the Prime Minister. But, it has now been confirmed, he forgot to look closer home.

Yes, quite a mouthful of subsidy is being served up in the canteen of the biggest house of them all - Parliament.

A right to information plea has revealed that the government faced losses of around Rs 14 crore in 2013-2014 because of subsidy at the four Parliament canteens.

The low prices at which MPs and other designated persons can feed themselves have not been revised since 2010 by the authorised committee.

Which means the rates continue to be in place even while Narendra Modi and his ministers are exhorting the rest of the better-off Indians to give up the cooking gas subsidy and be model citizens.

It also means that an MP can have a full-course lunch, complete with dessert, at the Parliament canteens for Rs 38.

Chew on this: boiled rice and dal for Rs 6, a bowl of vegetable stew for Rs 4, fish curry for Rs 20 and kheer for Rs 8.

Try this menu at any eatery elsewhere in Delhi - outside Jama Masjid, for instance, it will leave your wallet lighter by at least Rs 100.

In the interest of full disclosure, the following detail is in order: apart from MPs and House staff, journalists who cover proceedings can also eat at the canteens.

The House canteen items are priced far lower than the cost of the ingredients. The Northern Railways, which manages the canteens, meets the deficit before it is reimbursed from a budget grant for the Lok Sabha secretariat.

MPs draw a monthly salary of Rs 50,000 and enjoy several perks.

"It's shocking," said RTI activist Subhash Agarwal, who filed the plea.

Agarwal pointed out the obvious: salaries of parliamentarians are "sufficient to afford normal food prices without subsidy, especially when even people below the poverty line had to spend much more on food".

The now-defunct Planning Commission had last year recommended an urban poverty-line cut-off of Rs 47 a day. It meant those who could spend more than Rs 47 a day in cities were not poor and so were not entitled to benefits, unlike MPs who draw a monthly salary of Rs 50,000.

Soon after the BJP took over, the food committee introduced seven of the most expensive items on the menu.

Telangana Rashtra Samiti MP A.P. Jithender Reddy, the chairman of the food management committee since last year, said that more than MPs, it was the 4,000-odd support staff and journalists who were the main beneficiaries.

"It is always parliamentarians who get badnaam (a bad name).... Now, I am thinking that we should pull out the subsidies," Reddy said.