New Delhi: As the debate on the subsidy given to the MPs canteen in Parliament House complex continues, an online petition urging the government to do away with the concession is getting the backing of people, with over one-and-half lakh people having signed it so far.
However, most MPs feel the food subsidy is needed -- even though a minority agrees that it can be done away with.
The petition on change.org had 1,54,586 signatories by the time the story was written, and the target is to get two lakh signatures, stressing that if people can give up LPG subsidy, why can`t parliamentarians give up canteen subsidy.
The petition, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said: "...there are more poor people in our country than the MPs who need subsidy on food. Please stop this subsidy to Parliament canteen and utilise this money to feed the poor of this country who cannot afford two meals a day."
"If we can give up our LPG subsidy why can`t the MPs, who earn over Rs.1.4 lakh per month with perks, pay for their food? We pay taxes for their salary, perks, travel, stay... everything. Should we pay for their food also? Can`t they afford their own food? Why can`t this amount be utilised to feed the unprivileged instead of feeding the MPs," the petition said.
Recently, Biju Janata Dal MP Biajayant Jay Panda wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan urging removal of the canteen subsidy.
Panda, in his letter to Mahajan, also quoted how Prime Minister Modi has been urging people to give up the subsidy they avail on LPG cooking gas.
He, however, received a letter signed by 12 MPs who said Panda should first give up "all big benefits and concessions" his family-owned company had received earlier, which included a loan waiver of Rs 2,300 crore.
The MPs who signed the letter include MB Rajesh, KN Balagopal, PK Biju, A. Sampath and Ritrabrata Banerjee of the CPM, AM Ramachandran, KC Venugopal, MI Shanavas (Congress) and Jose K Mani (Kerala Congress).
Several MPs feel the subsidy is very much needed.
Congress MP in Rajya Sabha Husain Dalwai said the subsidy was available only during Parliament sessions. "This subsidy is availed by MPs only during parliament sessions. In fact, there is a need to improve the standard of food," Dalwai told a news agency.
He also said it was a misconception that all MPs were rich and they get hefty salaries.
"With the salary we also have the expenses. We have several staff to take care of as well," he said.
CPI-M member from Kerala MB Rajesh, one of those who sent the letter to Panda, said: "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."
BJP MP Jagadambika Pal told a news agency: "We work here the whole day. if we don`t get food at subsidised rates, it will effect our efficiency. And it is just a subsidy, it is not free."
Rajya Sabha MP Ramdas Athawale, however, remained neutral and said the decision to increase the rate of food in canteen can be taken by the government alone.
"The government has to decide if the rate of food in canteen needs to to be increased or not. Whatever government decides will be acceptable to all," he said.
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 recently when Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked into one of them for a simple vegetarian lunch.
The prices have not been revised since 2010 and the subsidy has been in place since 1952.