Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

Cease the distractions, seize the moment

The crisis provides several opportunities for real parliamentary change; a reduction in the pay of MPs is only symbolic

The government has issued two ordinances, Parliament has modified its rules to reduce the salary and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers, and the Union Cabinet has decided to cancel the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for two years. These measures are purportedly to save costs as the nation tackles the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cosmetic cuts

The cuts in salaries and allowances are a distraction from the real issue: are our parliamentarians performing their constitutional roles during the crisis? Let us quickly consider the impact of the cuts. The 30% cut in the ₹1 lakh per month salary and the ₹27,000 cut in office and constituency allowances amount to savings of less than ₹5 crore per month. The cut in sumptuary allowances for Ministers results in a total savings of ₹25,000 per month; yes, you read that right. These amounts are immaterial for the Central government with an average monthly budget of ₹2.5-lakh crore. Interestingly, the United Kingdom has increased the allowance for Members of Parliament by £10,000 to help them manage extra costs of working from home.

Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India | State-wise tracker for coronavirus cases, deaths and testing rates

During the crisis, Members of Parliament should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic, and the costs and consequences of various alternatives. They should also be trying to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through alternate mechanisms such as video-conferencing. For example, while the U.K. has also implemented a lockdown, its Parliament is connecting all Members through video-conferencing (by April 15) so that the session can resume virtually on April 21 after the Easter break. The British Parliament has created a page on its website tracking all government orders related to the pandemic, and its Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is scrutinising the orders. Other Parliaments are also working to fulfil their role as oversight bodies. The New Zealand Parliament has formed an Epidemic Response Committee that will examine the government’s management of the epidemic. This committee and other select committees are meeting through video-conference.

Parliament absent

The Indian Parliament adjourned on March 23, the day after the janata curfew, in view of the pandemic. In the previous week, even as the crisis was unfolding, Parliament was debating the establishment of a Sanskrit University and an Ayurveda institute, and that of regulatory boards for aircraft, Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy. The Finance Bill was passed without any discussion on the last day. There was no discussion on the possible implications of the coronavirus epidemic and policy measures to tackle it — this was the week when the Prime Minister made the first televised speech to the nation on the issue. Remarkably, there was no recognition of the pressures on the Budget when it was passed that week.

Since then, Parliament has not held committee meetings. There have been no official statements regarding the possibility of holding these through video-conference. Thus, the government’s actions are going unchecked. In brief, Parliament has abdicated its role as the elected body that checks the work of government on behalf of citizens. Instead, we get the symbolic gesture of reductions in pay and allowances.

Good move on MPLADS

The cancellation of MPLADS for two years, on the other hand, is a welcome move. This scheme should not be resumed after the crisis. In financial terms, there are savings of nearly ₹4,000 crore per year. While this is not insignificant, the larger benefit is that this will help Members of Parliament focus on their roles as national legislators. MPLADS creates several issues of accountability and jurisdiction. It impinges on separation of powers, both horizontally across different organs of state, and vertically across different levels of governance.

Other than making laws, Members of Parliament have two key duties. They sanction the size and allocation of the government budget. They also hold the government accountable for its work, including that of spending funds appropriately. MPLADS brings in a conflict in both these roles. It asks them to identify and get specific projects executed rather than to focus on policy measures to achieve the same results and ensure that the government is implementing those policies. It distracts them from allocating and monitoring the Union Budget of ₹30-lakh crore to micro-managing the constituency fund of ₹5 crore. And since the financial audit of MPLADS is done by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and further examined by the Public Accounts Committee consisting of Members of Parliament, it adds another layer of conflict.

Editorial | For better use: On MPLADS funds

MPLADS is typically spent on capital works at the local level such as a bus stop, hand pumps, school rooms, etc. These fall within the domain of the panchayats and municipalities. Members of these bodies are elected to perform an executive role. MPLADS transforms the Member of Parliament from a legislator looking at national issues to an executive solving hyper-local problems. After all, if Members of Parliament spend a large part of their time on work that should be done by local-level government, how would they have time to inform themselves while making national laws and checking the work of the Central government?

Scope for reform

The current crisis provides several opportunities for reform. For example, Parliament should explore how technology can be used to improve its efficiency. Much of the daily paper work such as filing questions and other interventions have been digitised while protocols and infrastructure may be needed if meetings have to be held through secure video-conferencing.

Other issues such as pay and allowances for Members of Parliament need to be discussed. The Members of Parliament should be provided with office space and research staff. They should be compensated in line with their duties as national legislators. For example, the pay (₹1 lakh per month) and allowances (₹1.3 lakh per month) pale in comparison to that of U.S. Senators (pay $174,000 per annum plus allowances over $3 million per annum). At the same time, hidden perks such as housing in central Delhi must be made transparent — few democracies provide housing for legislators or civil servants; they are paid well and expected to find housing on their own.

Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

We need public debates on issues that impact the working of our legislatures. We need to ensure that we have the right compensation structures to attract the best people to make our laws and policies. We also need to hold them accountable for their work as national legislators, i.e., the positions they took on various issues and how they ensured the government remained accountable for its actions. Distractions such as MPLADS must be done away with. After all, a representative democracy functions only as well as its legislatures do. And our freedoms are safe only if we have a robust legislature and a fiercely independent judiciary.

M.R. Madhavan is President of PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 1:55:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/cease-the-distractions-seize-the-moment/article31349929.ece

In This Package
Open with caution: On Unlock 1
It’s time for a universal basic income programme in India
The waning of subaltern solidarity for Hindutva
Export blocks: On India’s trade amid the pandemic
A moment to trust the teacher
The echo of migrant footfalls and the silence on policy
Enjoying the fruits of their labour
Helping supply chains recover
The heavy burden of social suffering
An effective lockdown
The lockdown has highlighted stark inequalities
Will sport be the same in empty stadia?
Cinema after COVID-19
The eternal longing for the distant home
Working safely: On workplaces during the pandemic
A hole in the whole: On health sector woes
China, better prepared for the post-COVID world
How public health boosts an economy
Keep it retrospective
Backing the ‘angels in white coats’
Standstill: On opening of stadia for training
Flawed stimulus is justice denied
We need social physicians
A callous response
Peaking: On India’s coronavirus tally
Farm gate in focus: On amending Essential Commodities Act
A question of quarantine: On migrant workers and other travellers
TASMAC tribulations: On Tamil Nadu liquor sale
The pandemic and the challenge of behaviour change
One for the poor: On Centre’s corona package
Lockdown syndrome: On virus-induced economic crisis
Are India’s labour laws too restrictive?
Stop the return to laissez-faire
States cannot be left to the Centre’s mercy
Local motif: On Modi’s call for self-reliance
Liquidity lifeline: On Nirmala’s MSME package
A plan to revive a broken economy
Provide income support, restore jobs
Perilous state: On State finances
COVID-19 and the path ahead
Reaffirm cooperative federalism
Riding roughshod over State governments
Tragedy on the tracks: On the killing of 16 migrant workers
Coming to terms: On India refusing to admit community transmission
The trends shaping the post-COVID-19 world
The epidemic and ensuring safety in courts
Responding to COVID-19 at the grassroots
The face of exploitation
Contempt for labour: On dilution of labour laws
Slower growth and a tighter fiscal
Back home: On return of Indian expatriates
Blame game: On Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric over COVID-19
Resuscitating multilateralism with India’s help
A war-like state and a bond to the rescue
Fear and loathing in the land of the free
Everyone wants a good stimulus
Rent control amidst pandemic
Slow release: On lockdown 3.0
No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases
Pandemics without borders, South Asia’s evolution
India’s disease surveillance system needs a reboot
No relief for the nowhere people
BRICS against COVID-19
Recovering early: On India’s COVID-19 patients
It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security
Taiwan’s coronavirus protocol shows how it is done
Needed: a pandemic patent pool
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Plasma therapy is no silver bullet
Take care of yourself too, fellow journalists
Strategic shift: On home isolation of mild coronavirus cases
Coping with today, planning for tomorrow
No end in sight: On India’s coronavirus strategy
Vividly imagining the life of migrant workers
A task for South Asia
Privacy concerns during a pandemic
Unlocking justice in the lockdown
Safe return: On migrant worker distress
The outline of another pandemic combat strategy
Pandemic and panic: On Tamil Nadu’s five-city lockdown
Protecting the poor from becoming poorer
Did SARS-CoV-2 begin from a lab?
Protection for protectors: On safety of healthcare workers
Rapid failures: On antibody testing kits
The COVID-19 paradox in South Asia
Fishing in troubled waters during a pandemic
How will India emerge out of the lockdown?
Making doctors wash hands
Locked out of cities, homes and livelihoods
Script of unity: On coronavirus and social prejudices
Exploiting a pandemic: On Trump’s immigration policy
The village is still relevant
A time for planetary solidarity
There may be no going back
No transparency in West Bengal
Focus on the curve: On India’s COVID-19 numbers
Economy in lockdown: On India’s worst case scenario
A shot of hope with a game changing vaccine
Caught in the heightened arc of communal polemics
Singing the corona tune
Helping a lending hand: On RBI’s second lockdown stimulus
A season of change: On IMD forecast system
A virus, social democracy, and dividends for Kerala
Across the gulf: On stranded Indian workers
Virtual reality: On telemedicine
A blueprint to revive the economy
A case to use JEE-Main instead of JEE-Advanced this year
Will the aviation industry recover from the pandemic?
Data-driven reporting during COVID-19
Stress test: On revised lockdown guidelines
Disastrous decision: On Trump halting funds to WHO
You are reading
Cease the distractions, seize the moment
Getting the containment strategy in India right
In India’s response, a communications failure
Harmonising with nature
End the harassment of farmers now
A narrowing window: On extension of lockdown
Corona bond: On Eurozone COVID-19 rescue package
Halting the march of rumours
Polls during a pandemic
The pandemic and the contours of a health response
Economic liberalisation and its faults
Invasive, alien, most fearsome
Trade in tatters: On the global slump
Wanted, a collective national endeavour
Disingenuous and no antidote
COVID-19 and the crumbling world order
Women’s safety during lockdown
Lives and livelihoods: On economy after lockdown
Stage fright: On denying community transmission
Team India and winning the pandemic battle
In time of need: On hydroxychloroquine export
Will COVID-19 affect the course of globalisation?
Finding a scapegoat in WHO
Curating news for children during pandemic
A time for extraordinary action
For better use: On MPLADS funds
Needed, greater decentralisation of power
A key arsenal in rural India’s pandemic fight
Preparing for exit: On lifting the lockdown
Sanctions and pandemic: On America’s Iran policy
‘A script of action, responsibility and compassion’: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot writes on Rajasthan’s fight against COVID-19
Taking a long view of the pandemic fight
Ten questions posed by the virus
A different economic approach
Why healthcare workers above 60 should be ‘benched’
Enemy at the gates: On Kerala-Karnataka border row
Reducing farm distress during a pandemic
Why everyone should wear masks
The criticality of community engagement
A niggardliness that is economically unwarranted
The spectre of a post-COVID-19 world
Light and sound: On Narendra Modi’s 9-minute light ceremony
A million and counting: On global coronavirus spread
Safe forests, safe people: On diseases of animal origin
Quarantine and the law
Making the private sector care for public health
Looking east to contain COVID-19
Limits to rugged individualism
Uncritical endorsement: On exodus of migrant workers and the Supreme Court
Beyond the blame game: On the Tablighi Jamaat episode
A long road: On India’s 21-day coronavirus lockdown
The missing notes: On politics and the fight against COVID-19
China’s zero: On China’s lead in containing coronavirus
Unprecedented step: On Wuhan lockdown
The return of the expert
Lessons from Hubei
A pandemic in an unequal India
Faith can’t override public health
Devising a people-centric response to COVID-19
Karnataka CM writes on how the State is fighting the pandemic
Tamil Nadu CM writes on how the State is stopping the pandemic in its tracks
The hunt for a cure begins with telling the truth
COVID-19 and a city’s anatomy
Long live the nation-state
The COVID cycle
Coronavirus | The worst of times, the best of times
It’s also a fight against punitive measures
The age of the neoliberal virus
The deep void in global leadership
Thinking national, acting local
Every man is a part of the main
Beyond social distancing to fight COVID-19
Next Story