On Monday, April 6, the Union Cabinet gave its nod to the central government's decision to suspend Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLADS) scheme for two years, along with a 30% cut in the salaries of the Prime Minister, other ministers and sitting MPs, as a step to mobilise money to fight against COVID-19. The suspension of the MPLADS scheme, especially during a pandemic which has been showing an exponential growth in the number of positive cases across the country, invited much criticism from various corners.
Since many parliamentarians have been allocating money to the public healthcare system in their local areas out of their MPLADS funds, law makers see it as a setback in the fight against the pandemic.
“This is a huge setback in the district level fight against coronavirus as district hospitals are the last frontiers and need all the support in the form of medical staff and equipment. We, the local MPs, are keenly aware of their requirements. After issuing guidelines that at least Rs 5 lakhs from MPLADS fund should be used for COVID-19, the Centre has suddenly taken away the entire Rs 570 crores, available with Tamil Nadu MPs, and merged it with the consolidated fund,” said D. Ravikumar, MP from the Villupuram Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu.
On March 25, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) MP had allocated Rs 55.20 lakhs from his MPLADS fund for purchasing equipment and kits for COVID-19 treatment in the district hospital. However, the centre’s decision comes at a time when the district collector was in the process of finalising contracts for supplies which include PPE kits, ventilators, nebulisers, X-Ray machines, masks and gloves.
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Under the MPLADS scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest the District Collector for works to the tune of Rs 5 crore per annum to be taken up in their constituency. MPs from the Rajya Sabha can recommend work in one or more districts in the State from where they have been elected.
Now, instead of MPs spending the fund for developmental activities in their local areas, the sum of Rs 10 crore from each MPLADS fund will go to a Consolidated Fund to fight the pandemic. With the two moves of both a salary-cut and the suspension of MPLADS funds, the government aims to consolidate Rs 7,900 crore.
However, each constituency has its own unique share of problems that MPs could address. But now, as per the consolidated and centralised fund, the money can spent anywhere across the country. Pointing out the possibility of issues remaining unresolved, Ravikumar asked: “Where is the guarantee that the funds of Tamil Nadu MPs will not end up in UP or Bihar, when they should have actually been spent only in Tamil Nadu?”
Elamaram Kareem, Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, told NewsClick that the centre’s decision “curtails the development of states, especially in times like these because a majority of the fund would go toward efforts to tackle COVID-19 and its further spread.”
The move is a huge setback for Kerala as the state has got a meagre amount from the centre. “It’s not only about Kerala, it’s a setback for local developmental activities,” Kareem added.
Earlier, a total of Rs 11,092 crore had been allocated all states as advanced payment of the centre’s share of the first installment of the State Disaster Response Mitigation Fund (SDRMF). Of the total, Kerala got only Rs 157 crore.
Responding to the centre’s decision, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: “We welcome the Union Government’s decision to cut the salaries and pensions of MPs by 30%. However, we feel that the decision to suspend MPLADS is illogical and amounts to an anti-federal move. Some MPs of Kerala were making good use of it; which will now be lost to the State.”
Vijayan added that the states are entitled to MPLADS funds “and the decision to centralise these funds will immensely weaken the efforts of state governments against #COVID19. Decentralized interventions are most effective when it comes to tackling disasters or epidemics.”
Kerala has been excelling through collective efforts to tackle the pandemic, and its MPs have allocated their MPLADS funds for importing new medical equipment and protective gear for health professionals.
Congress leader and MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, had bought cartons of 1,000 rapid testing and 1,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits before the centre scrapped the fund.
"Thiruvananthapuram: proud that 1000 more Rapid RT-PCR test kits & 1000 PPE kits delivered to the District Medical Officer today. Final batch of 1000 #rapidtestkits will be delivered on Wednesday & 7500 PPE kits next week. Put my MP funds to good use just before the Govt cut them," the MP tweeted.
In a press statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP A.M. Ariff said that the economy of the country is in bad shape due to various steps by the centre including demonetisation, improper GST implementation and huge tax relief for corporates and now the government is supposedly trying to lay this burden on common people. In a letter to the President, Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker, he urged them to withdraw the decision to scrap MPLADSs.
The MPs are also unsure about what would happen to funds that have already been allotted.
“Only last week I had driven down to my constituency, met the district collector and on his request, allotted Rs 50 lakh from my MPLADS fund for establishing a corona ward in Thoothukudi. When they sought funds for buying equipment like ventilators etc, I allotted another Rs. one crore. Now comes this announcement of scrapping the MPLADS funds for two years, which will be a huge setback in the fight against the disease,” said, Kanimozhi, the DMK MP from Thoothukudi.
“We have no issue about giving up our salaries but the Centre could have at least shown the decency to consult the MPs or their parties during the all party meeting before doing away the with MPLADS funds,” she added.
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