New Delhi: Parliament on Friday passed a bill to reduce salaries of MPs by 30 per cent for one year to augment financial resources required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, with members supporting the move but demanding restoration of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS).
Rajya Sabha passed the bill on Friday, while Lok Sabha had cleared it on Tuesday.
Opposition members in both the House supported the move, but pressed for restoration of MPLADS fund, which has been suspended for two years. They also said public money should not be spent under such circumstances on projets, including a new Parliament building and bullet train.
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 will replace a similar ordinance issued in April this year.
The consolidated amount of MPLADS funds for two years - Rs 7,900 crore - will go to the Consolidated Fund of India.
The Upper House also passed the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which proposes to reduce the salaries and allowances of ministers by 30 per cent for a year.
While supporting the cuts in salaries, most Opposition members who participated in the discussion in Rajya Sabha on Friday urged the government to review its decision to suspend the MPLADS fund for two years, saying it was necessary to carry out development works in their respective constituencies.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said this was a temporary suspension.
During the debate, Joshi said it did not matter how much money was being saved through salary cuts of members. "Charity should begin at home and that is the concept we have started. It is not Rs 4 crore saving as said by DMK member but Rs 53.9 crore per year from members' salary," he said.
DMK member P Wilson had earlier during the discussion said the measure would entail savings of just Rs 4 crore.
On several opposition members asking the government to stop various projects like the bullet train and construction of a new Parliament building to cut costs, Joshi said, "First you say public spending should be increased and now you are demanding that all these projects should be stopped."
"At least we don't pay to some private trust from PM Relief fund. These people raised similar issues in 2019 election and people have answered," Joshi further said.
Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, who moved the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, said COVID-19 has impacted the incomes of people working in the private sector and so the prime minister initiated this bill which entails 30 per cent reduction in ministers' salaries.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said around 70 per cent MPs depend on their salaries and have to take care of every expense through these emoluments alone.
He said MPLADS funds are meant for taking care of needy people in their constituencies and are utilised for various things like purchasing ambulances and building small roads and community centres.
"It (MPLADS) should not be suspended for two years. How did you presume that corona will go on for two years? Even if you had to do it you should have reduced it by half to Rs 2.5 crore (each MP). My suggestion to the government will be to reduce it for one year and in that one year Rs 2.5 crore fund be kept," he said.
Similarly, Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP), V Vijaysai Reddy (YSRCP), K Somaprasad (CPI-M), Fauzia Khan (NCP), Veer Singh (BSP) and Nazir Ahmad Laway (PDP), while supporting the reduction in salaries, sought restoration of the MPLAD scheme.
Wilson said the Centre is suspending MPLAD scheme when various infrastructure projects like Central Vista project were still being taken up.
Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD), while supporting the bill to cut salaries, asked the government to set its priorities properly. He asked if the construction of a new Parliament building was necessary when the country was going through a tough phase.
Ram Chandra Prasad Singh (JD-U) sought creation of a special corpus to deal with pandemics in the future.
Earlier, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh allowed a joint debate on both bills after members of the Upper House, cutting across party lines, suggested that as the contents and purpose of both bills were same, they should be discussed together.
Initiating the debate, Rajiv Satav (Congress) welcomed the step towards MPs' salary cuts but questioned the government's move to suspend the MPLAD scheme. "You are talking about the common people and have suspended MPLAD scheme, which was meant for the welfare of people," he said.
Satav said government efforts to tackle the pandemic are a "live example of mismanagement and failure" and no chief ministers were consulted before the lockdown.
"In 2014, the GDP growth rate was 7.4 per cent and now it has come to a minus 23.9 per cent," he said, adding, "Instead of being corona free, the country has become employment free (Corona mukt ke jagah, Rojgar Mukt ho gaya)."
Referring to the PMCARES fund, Satav said "no one knows to whom it is caring."
He also pointed out expenses by the government during the pandemic on projects such as Central Vista, bullet train and a special Rs 850 crore aircraft for the prime minister.
Shwait Mallik (BJP) said previous governments had not worked on disaster management. He said all states were consulted by the Centre while imposing the lockdown and PM had considered their suggestions.
Trinamool Congress member Dinesh Trivedi said the bill for reduction of members' salaries was decided only by some MPs on WhatsApp.
A Vijayakumar of AIADMK welcomed both the bills and said the government should clear the arrears of some ongoing projects under MPLADS.
Prasanna Acharya (BJD) said MPLADS should not be suspended and all arrears of previous projects be cleared.