November 24, 2020 11:58:49 pm
The Bombay High Court on Tuesday said the central government was well within its powers to have suspended the MPLAD (Members of Parliament Local Area Development) funds earlier this year and divert the money to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Neelima Vartak through advocate Shekhar Jagtap, opposing the suspension of funds for two years.
In April this year, the central government decided to suspend all MPLADS 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.’
The bench however objected to the petitioner’s locus standi in the case and said that if any of the parliamentarians felt that they were unable to carry out development programmes in their constituencies due to suspension of MPLADS, they were free to approach the court.
“The Members of Parliament (MPs) are responsible and mature persons. They will come before us for such a thing. During the pandemic, the nation was required to pull all efforts into strengthening its health and medical infrastructure,” the bench said.
The court said that the petitioner should have undertaken some research and provided data to establish if the suspension of such a scheme was adversely impacting the citizens.
“This (Covid-19) is a disaster and the government will have to resort to Disaster Management Act. It is within its powers to invoke the Act.” The bench added that the country was in a grave situation and all possible efforts were required to be made to end the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Everyone, including all MPs, are doing so much to control Covid. When the entire nation is struggling, how can you object to the suspension of MPLAD funds and their diversion to combat Covid-19? This money is being used to fight the pandemic and not to build bridges or something that is not required right now,” the court said.
The bench asked the petitioner to submit written submissions and posted further hearing to Wednesday.
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