The recent logjam in the Indian Parliament has sprung up a dozen of important questions in the air. Is naming a Member or mere suspension of an errant Member from the House enough to ensure the smooth functioning of the House? Is there a better way to resolve the parliamentary deadlock that has been reigning in the current Monsoon Session?
Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Mr. Mahesh Sharma has proposed a ‘No work, no pay’ rule for the parliamentarians as a disincentive to protests as a means to stall the functioning of Parliament. In India, a Member of Parliament continues to receive his salary even after being suspended for creating disruptions in the House. It is interesting to note that though Indian Parliament has yet to implement the aforementioned rule, other countries have been successful at it and have ensured smoother running of their legislatures.
In the United Kingdom, there is a rule for the Members of the House of Commons where the salary of the Member is withheld for the period of suspension. Though there have been rare cases of suspension of salaries of MPs due to grave misconduct which disrupts the business of the House, the fear of this sanction has improved the state of legislative business to a large extent. The idea of ‘No work, no pay’ is also catching up in other countries. Recently, on June 24th, 2015, the African Debating Chamber proposed the National Assembly Rules which talked of disruptions in the National Chamber. The rules state that the members will have their salaries docked when removed from the Chamber for hampering the business of the Chamber. These rules were admitted by the Parliamentary Rules Committee. This move was rationalized by the government to prevent the replacement of debates with shouting and screaming.
This principle of ‘No work, no pay’ is not new in India. There was a case in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly wherein the Privilege Committee of the House suspended some of the MLAs for a period of six months and during that period, they were not eligible to receive salary and other allowances. This report of the Privilege Committee dated 21.3.2013, was placed before the Assembly, put to vote and by majority, it was accepted. The suspended Members challenged this decision in the Madras High Court. The Hon’ble Madras High Court hasheld that a fair procedure was adopted before taking the decision to suspend the appellants for a period of six months with corresponding withholding of salary and other benefits and therefore, it cannot be said that they have been condemned. Though this precedent is not declared authoritatively by the Supreme Court, an adoption of this principle may work well considering the present situation, as the sanction of suspension of salary of an MP may serve as more of a deterrent than mere suspending or naming a Member in the Parliament. In cases of people disrupting proceedings, the presiding officers have limited powers to act. This impedes on the rights of other members to discharge their constitutional mandate, and disrupts the law-making framework of the entire country. Hence, the ‘No work, no pay rule’ may, in my opinion, help remedy this lacuna.
The opposition claims that this move world be a disproportionate punishment in response to causing disruptions in the Parliament. It is important to understand here that the principle of ‘no work, no play’ is not just punitive in nature, but works on the principle of compensation as well. People are compensated for productive contribution. When there is no productive contribution, there is no compensation in return. Applying this rule to the Members of Parliament today would makes sense as it would ensure that only those who productively participate in the proceedings of the house will be awarded salary and vice-versa.
In this context, I am reminded of a famous statement made by Lord Denning (former judge in the House of Lords) in one of his judgements, “I ask: is a man to be entitled to the wages for his work when he, with others, is doing his best to make it useless? Surely not. Wages are to be paid for services rendered, not for producing deliberate chaos.”
We must debate the merits of the principle of ‘No work, no play’. If it is applicable to every working class citizen of our country, must it then, not be applicable to our law makers as well? I ask this question, because I believe that as law makers, we must justify everything including our salaries.