The Congress on Monday said suspending MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) for two years would undermine MPs' role and demanded a review of the government's decision and sought restoration of the fund, even as it welcomed the salary cuts of MPs to fund the fight against coronavirus.
'Dear PM, 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 MP,' Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter.
However, senior party leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh went against the party's stand and welcomed the government's decision on MPLADS.
"I welcome the decision on MPLADS. I have been arguing for long that the approximately Rs 7000 crore given to MPs & MLAs annually for development works should be used as a corpus for State funding of elections," Ramesh said.
Surjewala said the MPLAD fund is not the personal fund of MPs and the money is used for the welfare of the people and for initiating development works in each constituency.
"This money is for natural calamities and for fighting against diseases like COVID-19 in local conditions at the discretion of the MPs. If this money is finished, then this will have a direct negative impact on the people of the MP's area and the people of the country will lose out.
"If the country's MPs lose their voice, then how will Parliament function effectively. Hence, this needs to be restored. The government needs to cut its unnecessary expenses and will garner Rs 4-5 lakh crore. We hope you will cut the unnecessary expenses of the government," Surjewala said.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel welcomed the decision to cut MPs' salaries, but suggested cutting down on non-COVID-19 publicity costs to enable the central government to save money.
'As a Member of Parliament, I welcome the government's decision to cut salaries of MPs. In this difficult time, this is the least we can do to help fellow citizens,' Patel said on Twitter.
'Apart from cutting salaries of MPs and ministers, the central government can save more than Rs 20,000 crore by scrapping the central vista redevelopment project & cutting down on non-COVID-19 publicity expenses,' he also said.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said suspending the MPLADS is an overstretch and needs to be restored, saying a knee jerk reaction much like the lockdown will hurt poor the most.
'Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi - As an MP who represents a predominately rural constituency I fully support the 30 pc cut in my salary. However the suspension of MPLADS is a bit of an overstretch,' he said.
Tewari said at this time of grave humanitarian distress that will get only worse in the months ahead.
He noted that MPLADS is a targeted and nimble instrument to customise micro level interventions to alleviate distress.
'I think MPLAD Funds need to be restored. Please re-think it once again. It is a knee jerk reaction much like the lockdown at a 4-hour notice. It will hurt poor most,' the Congress MP from Punjab said.
Another Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the Centre's decision to cut salaries and pensions of MPs is welcome.
'It's a good way for us to show solidarity with people suffering across the country. But the ordinance ending MPLADS funds for two years and pooling them into a consolidated fund run by the central government is problematic,' he said.
Tharoor said MPLADS is the only means for an MP to direct development resources to his constituency. An order to earmark all MPLAD spending for COVID-19 related measures would have been okay.
'I used mine to get urgently-needed rapid test kits and PPE to Thiruvananthapuram's health workers,' he tweeted.
Citing examples of disproportionate relief, he said the Centre has allocated Rs 157 crore of Disaster Response Mitigation Funds to Kerala, which has 314 COVID19 cases, while Gujarat, with only 122 cases, gets Rs 662 crore.
'Will this kind of imbalance also affect the reallocation of MPLADS funds,' he asked.
'In order to avoid such injustice, it's essential that MPLADS money continues to be spent constituency-wise. I urge the government to revise this decision by allowing MPs to earmark these funds for COVID-19 related expenditure to meet local needs and benefit the vulnerable. It's their job,' Tharoor said in another tweet.
The union cabinet in its meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved an ordinance to bring a 30 per cent cut in salaries and pensions of MPs for a year starting April 1.
The money will go to the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI), Union minister Prakash Javadekar had said.
All the revenue received by the government by way of taxes like income tax, central excise, customs and other receipts flowing to the government are credited into the CFI. All government expenditure is incurred from this fund and no amount can be withdrawn from the CFI without authorization from Parliament.
The Cabinet also approved temporary suspension of the MPLAD (Member of Parliament local Area Development) fund scheme during financial years 2020-21 and 2021-22, and the amount will be used for managing health and adverse impact of outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, he had said.