The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a Bill which has provisions to suspend the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds for two years and for a 30 per cent deduction of salaries of all lawmakers and the money thus saved can go to the Consolidated Fund of India to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was passed on the second day of the Monsoon Session despite objections by opposition MPs.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved the Bill to replace an ordinance issued by the government after the Union Cabinet in April approved a 30 per cent cut in the salaries of all Members of Parliament and suspension of the MPLAD scheme during 2020-21 and 2021-22. The consolidated amount of MPLAD funds — around Rs 7,900 crores — will go to the Consolidated Fund of India. The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had approved the ordinance to amend the Salaries, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954, to cut the salaries of MPs by 30 per cent.
The MPs, including the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers, would take the salary cut for the financial year 2020-2021. In addition, the Cabinet had decided to suspend the MPLAD funds for 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. Many MPs had already pledged to use their MPLAD funds, Rs 5 crore a year, for efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
In his concluding remarks, Joshi said the suspension of MPLAD funds is temporary and for two years. “I am happy that charity began from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This charity is because the economy has been affected due to lockdown and other things. When such things happen, we need to take some extraordinary decisions,” Joshi said.
The Minister said that the government has taken the decision to be a role model for others. “We have taken so many measures and unprecedented steps to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. PM Modi ji told me to tell all MPs not to politicise the issue as it is not related to Centre or state.”
Joshi mentioned how the government had put together a Rs 20 lakh crore package and the Rs 1.76 lakh crore Garib Kalyan Yojana scheme through which free ration is being provided to all poor people upto November this year. The government also given a Rs 40,000 crore budget for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Initiating a debate over the Bill, Congress MP Dean Kuriakose said it is very sad that MPLAD has been frozen without any consultation and prior information. The MP said he supports the move but opposes the method adopted by the government.
“The government on March 24 issued one circular regarding utilisation of MPLAD funds to fight against Covid-19. I have allotted Rs 1.5 crore to various government hospitals in my constituency for purchasing medical equipment. At that time, the government froze MPLAD unexpectedly for two years which will be Rs 10 crore. If this fund is not frozen we could have used these funds for purchasing medical infrastructure. These funds should be allocated for medical purposes,” Kuriakose said.`
Chennai North MP Veeraswamy Kalanidhi of the DMK said there are other ways to mobilise funds for the country. “I am not saying that this should not be done in accordance with the present situation, we also have to look for other ways to mobilize funds.”
He said that the government has gone ahead with the proposal to construct a new Parliament for Rs 20,000 crore in the next three-five years when the country is facing a big crisis. Kalanidhi said that the amount can be used to combat the pandemic and the economic crisis.
Supporting the Bill and saying that his party MPs have already given funds to fight Covid, Midhun Reddy of YSR Congress urged the government to rethink about the move, permit the MPLAD and increase the MPLAD amount during this period.
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy asked the government to take the MPs salary but provide MPLAD. Pinaki Misra of the Biju Janata Dal said that suspension of MPLAD is disempowering the MPs. “MPLAD is money by the people and for the people. This is not a token gesture. The government should reconsider it.”