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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Decision to suspend MPLAD funds to fight pandemic ‘unexceptionable’: Bombay HC

The court directed that Rs 1 lakh submitted by petitioner with its registry as security as per PIL rules stand forfeited and asked the registry to give the amount to the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority.

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The Bombay High Court on Friday held that the decision to suspend the MPLAD (Members of Parliament Local Area Development) funds earlier this year and divert the money to the fight against the pandemic was “consciously taken to provide measures for the nation to combat Covid-19 and to ensure all citizens ensure proper medical care and therefore it was ‘unexceptionable’.” The court said in the given situation the fight against Covid has to take centre-stage over all other developmental works sought to be secured by utilising the MPLAD scheme funds.

Observing this, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Neelima Vartak through advocate Shekhar Jagtap, opposing the suspension of funds for two years.

The court directed that Rs 1 lakh submitted by petitioner with its registry as security as per PIL rules stand forfeited and asked the registry to give the amount to the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority.

The bench held, “This PIL appears to us to be misconceived because it seeks to impeach justifiable executive action and has no element of public interest in it, far less a genuine public interest.”

In April this year, the central government decided to suspend all MPLAD funds, under which each elected MP gets Rs 5 crore annually for development work in his/ her constituency, for two financial years starting April 1. The money from the MPLADS funds, nearly Rs 8,000 crore, will go to the Consolidated Fund of India that the government said would be used in the anti-Covid-19 effort.

The plea sought directions to the government to resume the MPLADS scheme to ‘protect citizens of respective constituencies from adverse impact of the pandemic situation as well as to ensure implementation of welfare programmes and projects.’

CJ Datta, who authored the 27-page judgment, noted, “In our view, the decision would adversely affect the MPs because such suspension obviously entails suspension of developmental works in their respective constituency. Any MP could have approached the court, if he/she were aggrieved by the decision.”

The bench observed, “Irrespective of whichever party an MP belongs, the suspension has cut across all similarly; yet, none has come forward to say that by reason of the suspension, there has been an injury or wrong prejudicial to the interests of the electorate he represents.”

While dismissing the plea, the HC ruled, “In case of a disaster situation like the present caused by the pandemic, the Government of India needs funds to protect and aid the citizenry by offering appropriate facilities.”

“We hold that by suspending the MPLAD scheme during FYs 2020-21 and 2021-22, there has been no abrogation of any legal right of a citizen which would warrant judicial intervention,” the bench added.

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