The NDA government’s decision to suspend the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme for two years is a regressive step. This scheme was introduced by the Narasimha Rao government in 1993 to allow members of Parliament to participate in developmental work in their constituencies. The cancellation of the MPLADS is a direct attack on Parliamentary privilege.
The scheme allows a member of Parliament to spend up to Rs 1 crore anywhere in the country in case of an emergency such as the new coronavirus pandemic. The Narendra Modi government’s response to the pandemic has been found wanting in several key areas. By suspending the MPLADS, it has denied a source of vital funds to medical workers fighting the deadly virus.
The MPLADS is a developmental scheme mandated by Parliament. The Union government has unilaterally taken away the right of MPs to involve themselves in the developmental activities in their constituencies. The scheme as well as the members’ salary and allowances are matters of parliamentary privilege. I have no objection to the salary cut as the country is going through a major crisis. The government has acted undemocratically in unilaterally suspending the right of Parliament through an ordinance. I do agree that under Article 123 of the Constitution there is a provision to promulgate an ordinance in urgent situations.
There’s an MPLADS committee in Parliament with the deputy speaker as chairman. Unfortunately, there’s no deputy speaker at present, so the committee hasn’t been constituted. Any decision without the consent of the committee and MPs cannot be justified. Parliament has approved each and every rupee spent by the government, so there was no reason for bypassing the House.
The MPLADS is a decentralised form of developmental activity wherein each one of the 543 constituencies get an equal amount. MPs get an opportunity to select the scheme as per the requirements of the constituency. It has become a very popular scheme. In Kerala, it is being done in a transparent manner. The expenditure rate and people’s participation are very high in the state.
The idea has not been discussed in Parliament or with the leaders of political parties. The government is convening a meeting of floor leaders today (April 8). It should have taken the concurrence of political parties before announcing the decision. This is the arrogance of power. The Lok Sabha speaker must protect the privilege of the MPs.
The government will get Rs 7,900 crore from suspending the MPLADS, and just Rs 60 crore from cutting the salaries and perks of MPs. This is not being done for the money. The government is sending a message to the entire nation that it is taking stringent fiscal measures. The rights of central government employees and workers of all sections will be taken away. Had saving the money to fight Covid-19 been the objective, the government should have suspended the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project and saved thousands of crores spent on the Prime Minister’s publicity. They want to establish that the entire economic slowdown is because of Covid-19. They want to hide the fact that the country was facing a slowdown even before the outbreak because of their inept policies.
The MPLADS funds will now go to the Consolidated Fund of India. Once that is done, it is the discretion of the Union government as to where and what to spend. Kerala was allotted only Rs 187 crore to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. Look at the amounts given to other states. There’s no equitable distribution. The economic power is being centralised when everyone is demanding decentralisation even in fiscal matters. But unfortunately, there is a tendency in the Narendra Modi government to act against the basic principles of decentralisation.
The role of MPs in developmental activities has become insignificant. They have a bitter experience in many states. The state governments and MLAs don’t want the involvement of MPs. When MPs make a contribution, they also get a role. The decision to suspend the MPLADS will make the MPs mere spectators in developmental activities in their constituencies. By this move, the government is undermining democracy and empowering the bureaucracy.
My suggestion to the government is that take the MPs in good faith and ask them to utilise the entire fund to fight the pandemic. Even without such a directive, I have already allotted Rs 2.65 crore for fighting the pandemic. The money that goes to the consolidated fund of India will go into paying salaries and meeting other revenue expenditure. So, suspending the MPLADS will actually impact the effectiveness of the fight against the pandemic. The Narendra Modi government should realise its folly and withdraw this decision that undermines the power of Parliament.
(NK Premachandran is a Lok Sabha member representing Kollam constituency in Kerala)