Thiruvananthapuram: On Monday, the Union Cabinet gave its nod to the government's decision to suspend MPLADS scheme for two years. Now, Rs 10 crore from each MPLAD fund will the Consolidated Fund of India, to aid in efforts against the coronavirus pandemic in India.
However, many people, including opposition parties are not pleased with the decision. They say that the move would undermine the role of MPs, who would lose a vital instrument to manage distress at the micro-level.
Among these is Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor who has castigated the government over the suspension of MPLAD fund; saying they have a demonstrable potential to be deployed as an effective supplement to the initiatives being made by the central and state governments.
To understand this, one would have to look at what the MPLAD fund actually means. The 'Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme' was formulated in December 1993. It enables MPs to recommend developmental work in their constituencies.
Under the scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest to the district collector developmental works of Rs 5 crore per year in his/her constituency.
In a letter to the prime minister, Tharoor commended the government for its decision to revise the salaries of Members of Parliament and offered his wholehearted support for it.
However, he expressed concern over the government's decision to suspend all Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds for the period of two years in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Here is what the letter says:
Respected Pradhan Mantri-ji,
I write to you regarding the decision taken by the government today to implement a 30% salary cut for all Members of Parliament and the Union Cabinet, as well as the reallocation of all Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds for the duration of 2020-21 and 2021-22 to the Consolidated Fund of India, to bolster the resources available to our nation as we address the impact of COVID-19.
I would like to begin by commending the government for its decision to revise the salaries of Members of Parliament and would like to offer my wholehearted support in this regard. As parliamentarians, we are united with the government in its endeavour to raise resources and in a spirit of bipartisanship, I am happy to contribute any additional resources that can be generated through the revision of these salaries and allowances.
At the same time, even as I welcome the first part of this decision, I also wanted to express my concern
with the second part which has to do with the suspension of all MPLADS funds for the period of 2 years.
As I am sure you are aware, the MPLADS is an instrumental channel through which strategic and critical development projects have been implemented in each of our respective constituencies. To highlight one such instance, you may recall my recent request that was made in-person to you seeking a modification in the rules and regulations surrounding projects under MPLADS in order to make time-sensitive and critical purchases of PPE Equipment, Rapid Testing Devices, Infrared Thermometers and Scanners and masks, which I am glad to point out was a suggestion that was accepted by this government.
Through this, not only were we able to successfully bring in this equipment to my constituency of Thiruvananthapuram, but the relaxation of the existing rules was beneficial on a national scale since it allowed all MPs to redirect the funds at their disposal towards procurements to aid the fight against COVID-19.
In turn, without waiting for the devolution of funds from the Centre or States, this allowed Parliamentarians to play a proactive role in bringing in much-needed protection and testing equipment locally and helped improve the capacity of our frontline healthcare workers to address the spread of the pandemic.
As I am sure you will agree, by design, the MPLADS has traditionally been utilised to address and remedy gaps in our governance initiatives that may have been overlooked by the state and central government in their announcements of major development projects.
By decentralising the allocations of development funds, MPLADS have allowed legislators to usher small scale and time-sensitive projects within their respective constituencies. By removing the resources at their disposal to make critical interventions and bringing them under the ambit of the Consolidated Fund of India, it would centralise the allocation of funds, in turn, potentially leading to significant delays in the devolution of funds.
MPLADS preserved the sense of direct responsibility for the well-being of constituents that is a hallmark of an Indian MP's work. 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. This will also raise other questions regarding allocations.
For instance, as you know, despite being one of the most affected regions, my state of Kerala has so far only received 157 crores from the first installment of the Centre’s share in State Disaster Response Mitigation Fund, whereas other states that are less affected have received a larger portion of the first tranche from the Centre.
Therefore, while I agree with you on the need to garner additional resources in our nationwide campaign against COVID-19, I would urge you to reconsider the decision to suspend MPLAD funds since it has a demonstrable potential to be deployed as an effective supplement to the initiatives being made by the
central and state governments.
As an alternative, the government could use its authority to mandate that the MPLADS should be directed for COVID-19 related initiatives and could issue a fresh set of guidelines to enable the same.
There are no political differences in our fight to address the impact of this epidemic but at the same time, we must also ensure that all branches of the governance structure of our country are equipped in their own way to intervene and offer relief to our people in these trying times.
The financial resources ultimately belong to the people of this country and we must do our best to ensure that these are employed in the most effective, transparent and accountable manner.
As I conclude, I would like to once again offer my support in the national struggle against COVID-19 but hope you will reconsider the decision to detach MPLAD funds from our MP’s respective constituencies. I hope my reasoning will receive your most sympathetic consideration.