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MPs want a status upgrade, lal batti cars

NEW DELHI: Use of red light beacons atop cars and an upgrade in the warrant of precedence to serial number 17 from 21 at par with chief justices of high courts outside their jurisdictions and chairpersons of statutory bodies are part Lok Sabha’s privileges committee’s latest recommendations.

In its report tabled on Wednesday, the committee suggested that the highways ministry be asked to issue a notification under the Central Motor Vehicles Act to permit use of red lights on vehicles of MPs.

If the committee’s recommendations are accepted by the government, there can be close to 800 cars with red beacons if all MPs use such an option. Apart from their gripe over being low in the official pecking order, the MPs are clearly agitated over not being allowed the coveted “lal batti”.

Former home secretary G K Pillai told the committee about Jawaharlal Nehru’s noting on file in 1950 that non-inclusion in the table of precedence does mean lack of status. He quoted Nehru to say, “There are a large number of people outside the warrant who in effect are more important than those who are included… they may be given seats much higher than those in the list.”

The opinion of India’s first PM does not seem to have made much of an impression on MPs and in Delhi’s class and status conscious power circles, the right seating row is a much sought perch. There was a “great deal of feeling among MPs” even after independence, but Nehru did not see a case for their being higher than “between 14 and 15”.

The committee also said that former speakers be placed at serial number 7 in the warrant of precedence, alongside Cabinet ministers, chief ministers, former PMs and leaders of opposition in the two Houses of Parliament. As of now, former speakers are not on the order of precedence.

As changes in the warrant that affect the position of members of the judiciary require consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the committee decided that moving MPs up from 21 to 17 will be feasible without such procedures.

The committee felt that at serial number 21, MPs came way down the list behind envoys, chairpersons of state legislatures, administrators of Union Territories, chief executive councilors of Delhi and deputy ministers. It was felt that by placing MPs at par with high court judges, the rank of the judiciary was not altered.

The panel felt the warrant was an exercise in ad-hocism and did not reflect the correct standing of MPs who are junior to non-constitutional posts like officiating chiefs of staff holding the rank of lieutenant general.

Times View

MPs derive their stature and authority from being representatives of the people. The more faithfully they serve the people, the more they will be respected. And they will not need the trappings of power to be admired. If they fail, no amounts of red beacons and warrants of precedence will make people respect them. So, they should get out of this craving for cars with lal batti..

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