The hungry koalas

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We thought some koalas in our national assembly were a docile bunch of individuals who have been sitting there holding on to their fickle branch of power without making any noise. 

This week, they proved us wrong. They rebelled. Enough is enough! A petition and, for the first time, we saw such record-breaking action. So what was all the commotion about?

No, it was not about our public institutions which have become so heavily politicised that it is difficult to make the difference between an independent institution and a political party meeting. It was not about the drug problem and the dimension it has taken or the way it has infiltrated the police quarters. Nor was it about the cop who died in custody. It was not about the huge amounts of money ministers and board members are squandering on useless overseas trips. And it was certainly not a protest against the reprehensible POTA – a law likely to become even more dangerous with the suggested amendments. Nor was it of course a revolution against the papa-piti deal.

The rebellion was triggered by the fact that our honourable members were not satisfied with the food served to them in the national assembly! 

I need to first explain here that the food is free. In other words, the bill is picked up by the taxpayer. Let me also specify that the caterer whose food our MLAs are protesting against is not some street corner hawker but five-star hotel Beachcomber, which got the contract after a proper tender exercise! If I understand properly, our dear representatives are not satisfied with the food served by a five-star hotel and they don’t give a damn about the tender or the contract! 

To give a bit of context, each member of parliament is served a good breakfast at around 11 a.m.! Then they wolf down a three-course meal at lunchtime and, at teatime, they cram down a good snack. Come sundown, they tuck into another three-course meal before they head home, leaving the taxpayer with a bill of nearly Rs400,000 for the day. One day

Worse, several members of government do not go home empty-handed. They walk out with take-away boxes to feed the rest of the family!

And they dare rub our faces in it by complaining that the food is not good enough and that they want the contract to go to a ‘better’ caterer – the best in town – and are happy for us to pay perhaps an additional Rs100,000. This, at a time when they are throwing a measly Rs125-to-Rs200 a month compensation at the workers! 

To understand how obscene this really is, we need to look around the world. In Westminster, British MPs have to pay for all food and drinks in parliament. In the Lok Sabha, the controversy surrounding subsidised – not free – meals being served in the Indian parliament has been brought to an end with the speaker deciding that MPs have to pay the full price. The request, as it happens, came from an MP – BJP MP Kumar – who had the dignity to say that MPs “are able to bear the expense of their food” and that subsidising it is “unwanted and illogical”! 

While the rest of the world is removing subsidies on one meal a day served to their parliamentarians, we are stuffing ours full with four meals on a working day which starts at 11.30! And they are telling us a five-star hotel is not good enough to provide them with meals we are paying for!

I am not denying our MPs the luxury of choosing the food they want to eat and the caterer they want to cook it. All I am saying is that there is no reason why we should be the ones paying for it! Aren’t they paid handsomely enough for the few months they – literally – sit in parliament to be able to pay for their food like everyone else? It’s time we put an end to this farce!

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