The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to cut salaries of MPs by 30%. The debate however saw the entire Opposition uniting to ask for a concomitant restitution of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund which the Centre froze for two financial years till 2022 as an austerity measure.
Also read: MPLADS, its suspension, and why it must go
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi steering the bill thanked MPs for the bipartisan support but kept mum on the question of restitution of MPLADS despite the almost every non-treasury bench speaker demanding it. Dean Kuriakose of the Congress in fact moved a resolution before the debate on the Bill stating his disapproval of the Bill without any restitution of MPLADS.
Kalanidhi Veeraswamy, DMK MP from North Chennai spoke forcefully on the need for MPLADS as a fund that was sensitive to local developmental needs.
“While the intensity of COVID-19 varies from State to State, constituency to constituency, every Indian has been affected by the economic crisis that has come in the wake of the pandemic,” he said.
“The cut in salary will raise a maximum of ₹54 crores, while the Union government is set to spend ₹20,000 crore for a new Parliament, a needless expense at this time of austerity and crisis,” Mr Veeraswamy said, adding, “Prime Minister Modi and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman should consult economists as handling the economic crisis seems beyond them.”
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said not only had the government announced a freeze on MPLADS for two financial years, it had not allocated the last tranche of the funds due for 2019-20.
“I had allocated ₹50 lakh for a COVID-19 hospital in my constituency from the funds due from 2019-20 financial year but even that has not been disbursed by the government,” he said. “Even BJP MPs feel this way but since Prime Minister Modi has 303 MPs in the Lok Sabha, he doesn’t value their opinion,” he added.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the YSRCP echoed these sentiments with Pinaki Mishra of the BJD saying that “even BJP MPs feel the way we all feel on the question of restitution of MPLADS. It is not our fund; it is a fund for the people, by the people, of the people.”
At this, N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) who was occupying the presiding officer’s chair said the sentiments expressed by Mr Mishra were perhaps “the Sense of the House”.
Mr Joshi responded with homilies like “charity begins at home” and details about the ₹20 lakh crore package announced by Prime Minister Modi for economic relief. He added that the government had announced free grain for the poor till November and increased the dole amount on the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Programme. The Bill was later passed by voice vote.