Context: The government has issued two ordinances to save costs for the nation to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinances relate first to reduction in the salary and allowances of MPs and Ministers, and secondly the reallocation of all Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme or MPLADS funds for the duration of 2020-21 and 2021-22 to the Consolidated Fund of India.
Real Impact of Reduction in the salary and allowances of MPs
- Estimated of the cost saved
- If we quickly consider the impact of the cuts, then on the monetary front, the 30% cut in the ₹1 lakh per month salary and the ₹27,000 cut in office and constituency allowances amount to savings of less than ₹5 crore per month.
- The cut in sumptuary allowances for Ministers results in a total savings of ₹25,000 per month.
- An Analysis
- During the crisis, as per the Constitutional roles of MPs their foremost task should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic.
- It should involve evaluation of the costs and consequences of various alternatives.
- MPs should make efforts to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through technological means such as video-conferencing.
- The Indian Parliament before getting adjourned in view of the pandemic, even as the crisis was unfolding,was debating the establishment of a Sanskrit University and an Ayurveda institute, and that of regulatory boards for aircraft, Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy.
- The Finance Bill was passed without any discussion on the last day.
- There was no discussion on the possible implications of the coronavirus epidemic and policy measures to tackle it and also the Parliament failed to recognise the pressures on the Budget when it was passed.
- Since then, there has been no committee meetings.
- In brief, it seems that Parliament has failed to rise up to the occasion to play its role as the oversight body mandated to check the work of government on behalf of citizens.
Given the massive budget of the Central government, i.e. an average monthly budget of ₹2.5-lakh crore, the above cuts seem cosmetic in nature. To put it in perspective, the United Kingdom has increased the allowance for Members of Parliament by £10,000 to help them manage extra costs of working from home.
The need of the hour is that MPs should oblige with their mandated Constitutional roles.
Impact of reallocation of MPLADS to the Consolidated Fund of India for two years
Case for MPLADS
Case against MPLADS
- In the short run, during the times of COVID-19 pandemic, MPLADS funds could have been used for procurement of such supplies that will help in fighting against the disease.
- In India, there are large variations in infrastructure development across the States.
- MPLADS is one of the steps taken to address the issue of inequity in development.
- MPLADS funds, amounting to some Rs 5 crore a year per MP, are not money given directly to an MP.
- They are held by the district collector and allocated to various development projects within an MP’s constituency, on the MP’s advice.
- Given that the average MP’s parliamentary constituency covers seven or eight Assembly constituencies, which gives him (after the deduction of 25 percent reserved for projects exclusively benefiting Scheduled Castes and Tribes) some Rs 50 lakhs a year per Assembly constituency to spend on general development work.
- The amount seems paltry if compared to Kerala, where each MLA disposes of Rs 6 crore in development funds for a single Assembly constituency.
- Though the amounts available are not large, they enable an MP to respond to local demands and needs of his constituents, of which (S)he, as a popular representative and also more conversant than the central or even state governments.
- In 2010, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of the concept of separation of powers because the role of an MP in this case is recommendatory.
- The actual work is carried out by the Panchayats and Municipalities which belong to the executive organ.
- Although In financial terms, there are savings of nearly ₹4,000 crore per year.
- While this is not insignificant, the larger benefit is that this will help MPs focus on their roles as national legislators.
- MPLADS creates several issues related to accountability and jurisdiction.It has also been marred with issues of Corruption, misappropriation of funds, lack of monitoring and supervision.
- It impinges on separation of powers, both horizontally across different organs of state (as legislators enter into the realm of executive), and vertically across different levels of governance.
- MPLADS is typically spent on capital works at the local level such as a bus stop, hand pumps, school rooms, etc.
- These fall within the domain of the panchayats and municipalities.
- Members of these bodies are elected to perform an executive role.
- MPLADS transforms the MPs from a legislator looking at national issues to an executive solving local issues.
- So MPLADS is seen in contravention with the spirit of 73rd and 74th CAA.
- MPs have two key duties other than making laws. First, they sanction the size and allocation of the government budget and also hold the government accountable for its work including that of spending funds appropriately.
- MPLADS creates a role conflict.
- Tt asks MPs to identify and get specific projects executed rather than to focus on policy measures to achieve the same results .
- It distracts them from allocating and monitoring the Union Budget of ₹30-lakh crore and nudges them in micro-managing the constituency fund of ₹5 crore.
- As the financial audit of MPLADS is done by the CAG and further examined by the Public Accounts Committee consisting of Members of Parliament, it adds another layer of conflict.
- The NCRWC recommended immediate discontinuation of the MPLAD scheme on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the spirit of federalism and distribution of powers between the centre and the state.
- The 2nd ARC’s report on Ethics in Governance took a firm stand against the scheme arguing that it seriously erodes the notion of separation of powers, as the legislator directly becomes the executive.
The current crisis provides several opportunities for reform related to the discussed issues.
- Parliament now has the opportunity to explore the potential of technology to improve its efficiency.
- While much of the daily paperwork such as filing questions and other interventions have been digitised while meeting through secure video-conferencing calls for new protocols and infrastructure to be put in place.
Issues related to MPs -Allowances and facilitating Research staff
- Another realm of discussion may be pay and allowances for MPs.
- For example, the pay of MPs (₹1 lakh per month) and allowances (₹1.3 lakh per month) stand nowhere in comparison to that of the U.S. Senators (pay $174,000 per annum plus allowances over $3 million per annum).
- Also hidden perks such as housing in central Delhi must be made transparent as only few democracies provide housing for legislators or civil servants, rather they are paid well and expected to find housing on their own.
- In line with their duties as national legislators, the MPs should be provided with office space and research staff.
- Public debates need to be encouraged on issues that impact the working of our legislatures.
- They also need to hold them accountable for their work as national legislators.
- Their stand on various issues and how they ensured the government remained accountable for its actions.
- It also needs to ensure that we have the right compensation structures to attract the best people to make our laws and policies.
Role Models to follow
- Like in the case of the U.K. its Parliament is connecting all Members through video-conferencing while the lockdown is in place.
- Going further, the British Parliament has created a page on its website tracking all government orders related to the pandemic, and its Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is scrutinising the orders.
- Other Parliaments are also working to fulfil their role as oversight bodies.
- The New Zealand Parliament has formed an Epidemic Response Committee that will examine the government’s management of the epidemic.
- This committee and other select committees are meeting through video-conference.
Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme
- The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is an ongoing Central Sector Scheme which was launched in 1993-94.
- The Scheme enables the Members of Parliament to recommend works for creation of durable community assets based on locally felt needs to be taken up in their constituencies in the area of national priorities namely drinking water, education, public health, sanitation, roads etc.
- The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has been responsible for the policy formulation, release of funds and prescribing monitoring mechanism for implementation of the Scheme.
- The MPLADS is a Plan Scheme fully funded by the Government of India. The annual MPLADS fund entitlement per MP constituency is Rs. 5 crore.
- MPs are to recommend every year, works costing at least 15 percent of the MPLADS entitlement for the year for areas inhabited by Scheduled Caste population and 7.5 per cent for areas inhabited by S.T. population.
- In order to encourage trusts and societies for the betterment of tribal people, a ceiling of Rs. 75 lakh is stipulated for building assets by trusts and societies subject to conditions prescribed in the scheme guidelines.
- Lok Sabha Members can recommend works within their Constituencies and Elected Members of Rajya Sabha can recommend works within the State of Election (with select exceptions). Nominated Members of both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha can recommend works anywhere in the country.
- All works to meet locally felt infrastructure and development needs, with an emphasis on creation of durable assets in the constituency are permissible under MPLADS as prescribed in the scheme guidelines.
- Expenditure on specified items of non durable nature are also permitted as listed in the guidelines.
- A Member of Parliament shall give his/ her choice of Nodal District in a prescribed format to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation with copy to the State Government and to the District Magistrate of the chosen District.
- The annual entitlement of Rs 5 crore shall be released, in two equal instalments of Rs 2.5 crore each, by Government of India directly to the District Authority of the Nodal District of the Member of Parliament concerned.
- Each MP shall recommend eligible work on the MP’s letter head duly signed by the MP to the district authority.
- The District Authority shall identify the Implementing Agency capable of executing the eligible work qualitatively, timely and satisfactorily. It shall be responsible for timely and effective implementation of such works.
- All recommended eligible works should be sanctioned within 75 days from the date of receipt of the recommendation, after completing all formalities.
- The District Authority shall, however, inform MPs regarding rejection, if any, within 45 days from the date of receipt of recommendations, with reasons thereof.
- MPLAD Scheme can be converged in individual/stand-alone projects of other Central and State Government schemes provided such works of Central/State Governments Schemes are eligible under MPLADS.
- Funds from local bodies can similarly also be pooled with MPLADS works. Wherever such pooling is done, funds from other scheme sources should be used first and the MPLADS funds should be released later, so that MPLADS fund results in completion of the project.
- One MP - One Idea: Based on the innovative ideas received from the local people regarding developmental projects, a ‘One MP – One Idea’ Competition may be held in each Lok Sabha constituency annually to select the three best innovations for cash awards and certificate of appreciation for the next five best innovations.
Image Source: The Hindu