NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a bill to reduce for one year the salaries of MPs by 30 per cent to meet the "exigencies arising out of COVID-19 pandemic", even as members of several parties demanded the restoration of the suspended MPLAD Scheme Fund.
While supporting the cut in salaries, most Opposition members, who participated in the debate on 'The Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020', urged the government to review its decision to suspend the MPLAD scheme saying it was necessary to carry out development work in their respective constituencies.
The Cabinet had approved the temporary suspension of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) Fund for 2020-21 and 2021-22 citing the coronavirus crisis.
Under the scheme, members of both Houses can recommend development programmes involving spending of Rs 5 crore every year.
Several Lok Sabha members on Tuesday said while they were willing for a further cut in their salaries, they would want the MPLAD Fund to be restored.
Lok Sabha has 543 members and Rajya Sabha has a strength of 245.
A member of Parliament draws a salary of Rs one lakh per month and a constituency allowance of Rs 70,000 per month, besides other allowances.
The Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in the lower house on Monday to replace an ordinance promulgated on April 7.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that funds are needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
When some members said the cut in salary was only a token contribution as the amount saved was very little, Joshi said "charity should begin from home".
He also said that the economy was affected due to the lockdown, and in such a situation, the government has taken important decisions to deal with the crisis.
Responding to the demand by opposition members to restore the MPLAD Fund, he said, "Whatever decision we have taken on MPLADS is temporary and only for two years".
The consolidated amount of MPLAD funds for two years - Rs 7900 crore - will go to the Consolidated Fund of India, Members of the Congress, TMC, BJD, NCP, TRS, TDP and other parties pitched for the restoration of the MPLAD Scheme.
Making a strong case for revoking the suspension of the scheme, Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said salaries of parliamentarians can be taken away, but the Fund "should be given back".
He also stressed that the government should cut down on bigger expenses.
Echoing similar sentiments, BJD's Pinaki Misra said the government should seriously reconsider its decision on MPLADS.
Supporting the bill, NCP leader Supriya Sule said it is probably a "drop in the ocean" in terms of salary cut and everyone wants to stand united in this regard.
She, however, questioned the intention of the government.
The estimated cost of the proposed development of the central vista is Rs 20,000 crore and "you (the Union government) are saving around Rs 10,000 crore from MPLADS for a building which we have not asked for," she said.
"Do you want a central vista and an office, or a ventilator and a good hospital in your constituency. It is not rocket science. I urge this government to come clean on this," the NCP member said.
YSR Congress member Midhun Reddy urged the government to rethink the suspension of the MPLADS Fund, while Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP Nama Nageswara Rao also called for the restoration of the scheme.
The funds should not be taken away, stressed Telugu Desam Party member Jayadev Galla said.
"Everybody" has called for the restoration of the funds, "so why not we pass a unanimous resolution" in this regard, the leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said.
Chowdhury said 93 per cent of the funds have been utilised by members and the bulk was spent on welfare activities for SCs, STs and villagers.
While the government is giving tax relief to the corporates, it is cutting the salaries of the MPs.
This is being "penny-wise and pound-foolish", he said, adding, "I am appealing to the House that this fund should be restored."
Other members who made the same demand include AAP's Bhagwant Mann, Independent MP from Maharashtra Navneet Ravi Rana, BSP's Ritesh Pandey and AIMIM member S I Jaleel.
TMC MP Mahua Moitra said the government is doing a disservice by this decision, while Navneet Ravi Rana (Ind) said the fund is "very important for us" and the government should not take "our rights".