On March 25, Villupuram Lok Sabha MP D. Ravikumar allocated Rs.55.20 lakhs from his Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund for purchasing equipment and kits for COVID-19 treatment in the district hospital.
As the district collector was finalising the contracts for the supplies, which included PPE kits, ventilators, nebulizers, X-Ray machines, masks and gloves, the Centre suddenly decided to scrap the MPLAD funds.
“This is a huge setback in the district level fight against coronavirus as district hospitals are the last frontiers and need all the support in the form of medical staff and equipment. We, the local MPs, are keenly aware of their requirements. After issuing guidelines that at least Rs. 5 lakhs from MPLAD fund should be used for Covid-19, the Centre has suddenly taken away the entire Rs.570 crores, available with Tamil Nadu MPs, and merged it with the consolidated fund,” complained Ravikumar.
On Monday, the Union Cabinet gave its nod to government's decision to suspend MPLADS scheme for two years. Rs 10 crore from each MPLAD fund will now go to the Consolidated Fund and the decision was taken in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whereas previously each MP could allot funds for specific requirements of his constituency, since each area would have its unique set of issues that need to be addressed, now, the money can be redirected to any part of the country. “Where is the guarantee that the funds of Tamil Nadu MPs will not end up in UP or Bihar, when they should have actually been spent only in Tamil Nadu?” asked Ravikumar, general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).
Ravikumar also questioned the timing of the announcement of 30 per cent cut in salaries of MPs and scrapping MPLAD funds, just ahead of the all-party meeting called on Wednesday. “They could have sounded out the parties and their MPs at the meeting and asked for MPs to voluntarily donate one or two months’ salary to the PM Cares Fund or the CM relief funds in their respective states. For example, I have given my two months’ salary to the CM fund in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Also, what was the hurry to cut the MPLAD funds when you have scheduled a meeting with the same MPs in two days?” he asked.
The MPLAD Scheme was formulated in December 1993 and enables the MPs to recommend developmental work in their constituencies.
Under the scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest to the district collector developmental works of Rs 5 crore per year in his/her constituency. Initially, this scheme was administered by Ministry of Rural Development but in October 1994, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation started monitoring it.
The scheme started with an allocation of Rs 5 lakh in 1993-94 but the amount was increased to Rs 2 crore annually in 1998-99 and to Rs 5 crore annually since 2011-12.
Kanimozhi, the DMK MP from Thoothukudi, is also shocked at the Centre’s sudden move. “Only last week I had driven down to my constituency, met the district collector and on his request, allotted Rs.50 lakh from my MPLAD fund for establishing a corona ward in Thoothukudi. When they sought funds for buying equipment like ventilators etc, I allotted another Rs. one crore. Now comes this announcement of scrapping the MPLAD funds for two years, which will be a huge setback in the fight against the disease,” she said, unsure what would happen to her allotment.
“We have no issue about giving up our salaries but the Centre could have at least shown the decency to consult the MPs or their parties during the all party meeting before doing away the with MPLAD funds,” she added.
Similarly, Congress MP from Tiruchi, S. Thirunavukarasar, said the MPLAD fund was a crucial part of an MP’s connect with the constituents. “Even a small project, crucial to a village or town, when funded by the MPLAD fund, created enormous goodwill for the MP. Now, we have to refer the same project to Centre for implementation. They have reduced MPs to mere postmen,” fumed the former TNCC president.