Monday, 30th October 2017

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Cuts begin with MPs amid worry

Dissonance on MPLAD scheme freeze

By Anita Joshua and our bureau in New Delhi
  • Published 7.04.20, 5:05 AM
  • Updated 7.04.20, 5:05 AM
  • 3 mins read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said people could neither “tire nor stop” but prepare for a “long battle” ahead against Covid-19. (PTI)

The government on Monday cut MPs’ salaries by 30 per cent for the entire financial year and decided to suspend the MPs’ Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for this fiscal and the next to free up budgeted funds to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

The salary cut was welcomed by several parties but some others wondered whether it was a portentous signal to a wider audience that they should prepare to make sacrifices.

Some parties questioned the suspension of the MPLADS, seeing in it a move to centralise resources during a health emergency that needs local interventions.

Another ticklish question was why the Centre was not suspending the controversial and extravagant architectural makeover of the capital’s seat of power, called the Central Vista Project, if it was marshalling resources to combat the pandemic.

Announcing the two cabinet decisions, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said that suspending the MPLADS for two fiscals would add Rs 7,900 crore to the Consolidated Fund of India.

Under the scheme, launched in 1993, every Lok Sabha MP is currently entitled to Rs 5 crore a year to develop their constituencies while Rajya Sabha members can recommend public works worth the same amount in one or more districts of the states they represent in the House.

An ordinance will be promulgated to implement the salary cut. The President, Vice-President and all the governors have written to the Centre volunteering to forgo the same portion of their salaries for a year.

Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala frowned on the suspension of the MPLADS.

“INC supports the salary cut for MPs. Please note that MPLAD is meant to execute developmental works in the constituency. Suspending it is a huge disservice to the constituents and will undermine the role and functions of the MP,” he said.

The Congress appeared divided on the subject. At least two prominent voices, Jairam Ramesh and Rajeev Gowda, welcomed the decision on the MPLADS.

But Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor, who had last week used his MPLAD funds to get rapid-test kits and protective equipment for health workers in his constituency, appealed for a rethink.

“An order to earmark all MPLAD spending for #COVID19 related measures would have been OK.... MPLADS preserved the sense of direct responsibility for the well-being of constituents that is a hallmark of an Indian MP’s work,” he said. “Now the money will be allocated by the Centre and will follow the priorities and preferences of New Delhi, rather than reflect 543 sets of local needs.”

Tharoor also flagged the recent controversy over the allocation of Disaster Response Mitigation Funds.

“The Centre has allocated Rs 157 crore... to Kerala, which has 314 Covid-19 cases, while Gujarat, with only 122 cases, gets Rs 662 crore. Will this kind of imbalance also affect the reallocation of MPLADS funds,” Tharoor tweeted.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury too opposed the suspension of the MPLADS. “There is enough evidence that Covid-19 is best fought at the state and local level,” he said.

“By suspending MPLADS, government is taking away expenditure which would have attended to the unique requirements of an area. This centralisation goes against federalism and development, and will weaken our fight.”

Yechury asked why the government was not abandoning the Central Vista project in Delhi if it was cash-strapped. “Does it deserve a higher priority than the lives of lakhs of Indians? The BJP has abundant funds from opaque electoral bonds, why isn’t it transferring it all to the government during this crisis?” Yechury asked.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh supported the salary cut but questioned the suspension of the MPLADS without consultations with parliamentarians.

Manoj Jha of the RJD wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to reconsider this “ill-advised” decision.

Left-wing economist Prasenjit Bose saw in the pay cuts a portent of salary and wage reductions for ordinary citizens, which he said would be counterproductive at a time a recession was looming.

“The 30 per cent pay cuts are a harbinger of economy-wide salary and wage cuts. This has already started within the public sector and would invariably extend to the private sector, including the informal sector which employs the bulk of the Indian workforce,” he told The Telegraph.

“Salary and wage cuts at a time when the economy is staring at a deep recession are erroneous and counterproductive. In the name of austerity, such cuts will further compress incomes and purchasing power and depress the consumption demand, deepening the recession and leading to higher job losses.”

Additional reporting by our Calcutta bureau