With Rajya Sabha’s unanimous nod, the Bills to slash salaries of MPs and Union Ministers were passed by Parliament on Friday.
The two Bills, discussed together, were not opposed to by any party, but nearly every leader from opposition parties objected to stopping funds under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). They said MPLADS is not meant for personal use by MPs, but is for the people, and demanded that it be restored.
The House passed Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Salary, Allowances and Pension of MPs (Amendment) Bill, 2020 together by a voice vote.
The Bills allow a 30-per cent salary cut for MPs and Union ministers to help the battle against Covid-19.
Several Opposition leaders also took the opportunity to take on the government for going ahead with the Central Vista redevelopment project to build a new Parliament and other ministry buildings, which is likely to cost more than Rs 20,000 crore, at a time when it is mulling ways to reduce expense.
Stating that the Congress will support even a Bill that asks MPs to work for Re 1 for a year or two, party MP Rajeev Satav slammed the government for its handling of the economy. He said the GDP was growing at 7.41 per cent in 2014, but “you worked for 16-18 hours a day and brought it to minus 23.9 per cent (India’s GDP growth contracted 23.9 per cent in April-June quarter). Thankfully you did not work 24 hours a day; otherwise GDP would have reached minus 50 per cent.”
Accusing the government of not taking the states along before announcing the nationwide lockdown, Satav said, “You had said the war against virus will be won in 21 days. You could not make the country corona-free in 21 days, but the country has become employment-free. The PM CARES Fund…who is the fund taking care of? The entire country is unable to understand that.”
When the government is talking about cutting down expenses, he asked, “why is spending Rs 20,000 crore still part of your agenda” for the Central Vista project.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi defended the government’s handling of the pandemic and, responding to some of the charges brought by Satav, said the people had given the NDA a “resounding victory” in 2019 elections, when the Congress tried to raise the same issues. He also said, “On one hand we say government spending should increase, yet we are (also) saying bullet train, Central Vista (projects) should be stopped. What is this?”
BJD’s Prasanna Acharya said cutting salaries is “not about money (but) is about sending a message to the people”. On MPLADS, he said, “We are not taking it home; we were spending it on our constituencies.” He mentioned that even last year’s MPLADS funds have not been released.
Samajwadi Party leader Vishambhar Prasad Nishad said MPs could have used the MPLADS fund for fighting Covid-19 in their constituencies. DMK’s P Wilson called it a “glaring breach of cooperative federalism”.
K Somaprasad of CPI(M) said that GDP is “falling” since last year, and “social impact” of job losses is “beyond our imaginations”.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said that all parties support salary cuts, as that money is used by MPs for personal use. “But MPLADS is not our money. That is the money of the poor,” he said.
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