The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the entitlement of former Member of Parliament (MPs) to get pension and other benefits was “justified” as their dignity has to be maintained even after they complete their tenure as parliamentarians.
Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul that MPs have to “nurse their constituencies” and contest elections every five year and for this, they have to travel in their respective constituencies.
Venugopal made the arguments while opposing a petition which has raised several questions, including how the MPs could themselves determine their salaries and perks, It has also sought the scrapping of pension to them and their family members.
“Parliament is the law-making authority. Parliament has to ensure that so far as MPs are concerned, they can function effectively,” he told the bench, adding, “MPs have to go for elections every five year. They have to go to their constituencies and travel. So giving pension to them is justified.”
During the arguments, S N Shukla, general secretary of petitioner NGO ‘Lok Prahari’, referred to a report and claimed that 82 per cent of the MPs were ‘crorepati’ and taxpayers cannot be burdened with paying pension to former MPs and their family members.
To this, the bench said, “Let the taxpayers vote them out. Let them do it. We cannot stop them. You are making grand statements. Should we go into the data of how many bureaucrats are ‘crorepati’. Should we go into it? It is not permissible for us to go into this kind of a debate”.
At the outset, the Attorney General referred to a constitution bench judgement and said the issues raised in the plea were fully covered by the verdict of a larger bench.
He said what the petitioner was arguing would “belittle the competence of the Parliament” and it was not possible to compare the pension and benefits given to other public servants with that of former parliamentarians.
“You cannot compare one set of constitutional authority with the other. So question of Article 14 (equality before law) does not arise at all. Nobody’s rights are affected,” Venugopal said, adding, “their (MPs) dignity has to be maintained even after completion of their tenure”.
“The entire challenge on the basis of that they should not be given the benefits, is wholly misconceived,” he told the bench, which reserved its verdict on the plea.
The Attorney General also told the bench that the Centre has “given up” the idea of having an independent mechanism to determine the salaries and allowances of the MPs.
The petitioner told the court that the issue concerns taxpayers’ money and giving pension and other benefits to former MPs was discriminatory.
To this, the bench said, “You cannot compare it like this. Your submission is that equate a bureaucrat with a parliamentarian”.
“We agree with you that this is not an ideal situation, but this is not for the court to decide,” the bench told the petitioner and asked whether there was any other democracy in the world where such questions were debated in the court.
When Shukla referred to a media report, the bench shot back, “freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed and we cannot stop that”.
The court had yesterday observed that parliamentarians determining their salary and perks themselves was an “moral” and “ethical issue”.
The Centre had told the bench about the Finance Bill 2018 which contains provisions regarding salary and pension of MPs and also about revision of their allowances after every five years starting from April 1, 2023, on the basis of cost inflation index.
The apex court had last month directed the Centre to clarify its stand on setting up of an independent mechanism for determination of salaries and allowances of MPs after the government had said the issue was “under consideration”.
The apex court had in March last year agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws granting pension and other perks to retired MPs and had sought responses from the Centre and ECI on the issue.
The NGO has approached the apex court challenging the Allahabad High Court order dismissing its plea which had claimed that pension and other perks being given to MPs even after demitting office were contrary to Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution.
The plea has also said that Parliament has no power to provide for pensionary benefits to lawmakers without making any law.