The Centre's decision to suspend MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds for the next two years and use the money to fight the coronavirus pandemic has led to concern and criticism from Members of Parliament in south Indian states. While a majority are ready to give up salaries to aid the fight against COVID-19, they have expressed trepidation and discontent over the decision to remove funds from their control, alleging that it will work against the individual needs of constituencies.
The Central government will rake up Rs 7900 crore through this move and in addition to this it has also announced a 30% cut in salaries of MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister. This, they have said, is to direct funds from a singular point to ensure the pandemic is addressed.
Amongst those vociferously opposing the decision are MPs from Tamil Nadu. Taking to Twitter, Central Chennai MP Dayanidhi Maran pointed out that multiple government hospitals within his constituency that take in coronavirus patients could suffer if the Centre suspends his funds.
"We are more than happy to give up our salaries for a relief fund, but we cannot simply sign off our constituency funds. There is no guarantee that the funds from a specific constituency will come back to help that constituency's people in need," says the DMK leader. " The #MPLADS is the only source of funds available for MPs to help public hospitals in their constituency. It's a federal structure to guarantee funds for local development.Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital, KMC,Stanley, Omandurar Multi Speciality, Royapettah GH, Chetpet TB hospital, ESI Ayanavaram & many more in my constituency may need #MPLADS fund in case of emergency infrastructure requirement. Can the Centre assure they'll get what they need every time?" he asks .
He further alleged that this could become yet another display of the Centre's discriminatory treatment towards the southern states.
"We've already seen and are witnessing step motherly treatment of southern states by centre when it comes to fund allocations- be it #CoronaRelief, GST, 15th finance commission, infrastructure, language or even disaster relief. Can't trust the Centre to take care of states all the time," he tweeted. "We support the Centre in its efforts against Coronavirus but we can't allow any and every decision they make without debate. That will be detrimental to democracy and set a bad precedent. We have already seen the govt slip on important measures like lockdown planning and relief delivery," he added.
âAll steps taken will now become voidâ
Villupuram MP D Ravikumar who belongs to the Vidudhalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) meanwhile points out that even existing projects will come to a grinding halt if the funds are suspended.
"On March 24, I received a letter from the Joint Secretary of MPLADs to give atleast Rs.5 lakh to a local government hospital for coronavirus related activities. On the basis of the letter I asked hospitals in my constituency what they needed. We also got a consolidated list from the Joint Director of Health. So, I allotted Rs.10 lakh to a government college turned into a testing centre and Rs.55.20 lakhs to the hospitals for masks, gloves and ventilatory," says the Villupuram MP. "All other MPs too would have carried out similar actions but now the Centre has scrapped the fund and all steps taken will now become void," he adds.
Ravikumar also points out that the Centre will be unable to determine what individual constituencies require and that the state government will not be able to bear all costs.
"We can determine how many ventilators or PPE kits our hospital requires. Can the Centre do this? What is the guarantee that Tamil Nadu will even be allotted money from this?" he asks. "Instead of suspending funds, they could have told us to spend our entire fund on fighting coronavirus. Why take it from us? How will this money be accounted for if they take it and spend it on other things?" he asks.
In Kerala too, the decision by the Centre has been questioned.
Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor took to Facebook to write, âCentre'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 2 years and pooling them into a Consolidated Fund run by the Central Govt is problematic."
âRecover crores of outstanding dues from corporatesâ
The lone member from the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front, AM Ariff, who represents the Alappuzha constituency, said that the move will adversely affect the work they are doing for the constituencies.
"We were given a circular recently that we could divert our funds for COVID-19 activities and that has been done... now this has come, we do not know how things will pan out. Cutting allowances as high as 30 per cent, will seriously affect our daily work as a lawmaker, as we are always on the move. The government while doing this should seriously think of recovering crores of outstanding dues from corporates and others," says Ariff.
Even the ruling YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh, which is usually on the same page as the BJP, has expressed its concerns regarding the Centre's decision.
âAxe Central Vista projectâ
Speaking to TNM, Lavu Krishna Devarayulu, the Narasaraopet MP says, "We welcome the deduction in salaries by 30% but whatever money they are taking from the MPLAD funds, we want them to spend it on the constituency they are taking the money from. Maybe they can also cut down on funds directed to projects such as Ram Mandir and Central Vista."
The Central Vista redevelopment project looks to develop a triangular Parliament building next to the existing one and reportedly costs Rs 20,000 crore.
Speaking to TNM, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda from Karnataka said that while it made sense to channel funds to a national pool, the move does come in the way of a parliamentarianâs plans to develop their respective constituencies.
âI have always maintained that MPLAD funds belong to the people and not to me, the MP. We MPs get to use our judgment to direct these funds effectively to address key local needs. Now, when there is a national health crisis, it makes sense to channel these funds to a national pool,â said Rajeev Gowda of the Congress, adding, âHowever, this does come in the way of our own plans. While I, as a Rajya Sabha MP, could allocate MPLADs funds across the state, I was in discussion with Bengaluru's Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICDS) to invest Rs 1 crore for a COVID-19 isolation ward. Now I can only recommend that to the Central government.â
Like several other MPs, Rajeev Gowda also suggested that the Modi government axe projects like Centra Vista, stating, âI also hope that the Modi government will show the same spirit of sacrificing for the greater good by axing unnecessary projects like the Central Vista beautification for which Rs. 20,000 crores has been allotted in the budget, and redirect these funds to health care infrastructure.â
(With inputs from Prajwal Bhat)