By Sreeparna Chakrabarty
New Delhi, July 5 (IANS) Under fire for gorging on cheap food at the Parliament House canteen, many MPs feel the subsidy being given can be done away with as it was only creating a “bad press”.
An RTI query had recently revealed that the government faced a loss of around Rs. 14 crore (over $2 million) in 2013-14 because of subsidy at the more than half-a-dozen canteens in the parliament complex.
Most members of parliament IANS spoke to said an issue was being created out of nothing over the subsidy as most government canteens provide similar benefits.
“I think the amount of money being spent on subsidizing the food is creating much bad press. It is something which can be done away with,” Sikkim MP P.D. Rai (Sikkim Democratic Front) told IANS.
A policy decision should also be taken to do away with all kinds of subsidies being given in government institutions across the board, he added.
“This aspect has not been explored yet. There are numerous Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) and other government institutions which offer subsidized food at their canteens,” he said.
CPI-M member from Kerala M.B. Rajesh told IANS: “I don’t know why people are making such a hue and cry about it. It is not only the MPs but also other people like journalists and parliament staff who eat at the canteen. If taking away this subsidy is the solution to all issues, then it is ok.”
“We are wasting our time on silly issues,” he added.
An MP can at present have a three-course lunch at the parliament canteen for a mere Rs. 38. The canteens were much in news lately when Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked into one of them for a simple vegetarian lunch.
The low prices at which MPs and other designated people can feed themselves have not been revised since 2010 by an authorized committee headed by TRS MP Jithendra Reddy.
Reddy was not available for comment. However, BJP MP Arjun Ram Meghwal told IANS: “The prices are revised every three-four years. We will discuss it in the committee and the government can take a decision.”
The subsidy has been in place since 1952. The canteen facilities are also availed of by the Rajya Sabha secretariat, the Lok Sabha secretariat and the media.
Privately, however, many MPs maintain that the situation is much overrated. Meghwal said: “Some of the MPs stay alone, they have to eat when parliament is in session.”
According to Rajesh, the problem is that most Indians think all MPs are very rich.
“In the public mind, only one category of MPs are there, those who are very rich. Fifty percent of MPs are like that, but some others like us are also there who are not rich,” Rajesh said, adding that outside parliament, there are many more richer people, who get bigger subsidies. (An MP’s salary is Rs.50,000 per month plus other perks.)
“There is a thinking that rates at the parliament canteen are very cheap. But the fact is that quality is also like that (nothing to write home about),” he added.
Many MPs claimed they don’t eat at the parliament canteen at all.
“I only take lunch at the parliament canteen. All my other meals are at home,” Rajesh said.
A very senior MP, who didn’t want to be named, said apart from MPs, there were many others who are dependent on the parliament canteens.
“There are more than 9,000 employees of parliament who benefit from the canteen facilities,” the MP told IANS.
He added that parliament doesn’t even function for 100 days per year and it was unfair to say that huge losses were being accrued due to the subsidy.
Whatever the arguments might be, the fact remains that a look at the menu of the parliament canteens shows why they have come under the public eye.
Yellow dal, considered to be the poor man’s food in India, costs just Rs.1.50 for a single bowl, while a bowl of kheer costs only Rs 5.50. Similarly, a small fruit cake is for Rs 9.50 and a helping of fruit salad is for Rs 7. At the higher end, a chicken curry costs Rs.45 and the newly-introduced Hyderabadi biryani – an improvement over its predecessor – costs Rs.51.
(Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)