Significantly, as of March 4, 2020, as much as Rs 5,275.24 crore was unspent in the MPLADS, or MP Local Area Development Scheme, funds (see box).
The PM CARES — the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund — was instituted earlier this week to provide relief for Covid-19.
The Congress and other opposition parties have questioned the need for setting up the PM CARES Fund when there already exists the PM National
Relief Fund (PMNRF). According to the PM’s website, PMNRF had a corpus of Rs 3,800 crore at the end of 2018-19 fiscal.
Until Tuesday evening, only 320 of the 779 MPs (of the total 788) had consented that Rs 1 crore should be allocated to PM CARES Fund from their respective MPLADS. Sources in Parliament, however, said dozens of MPs sent their consent on Wednesday as well.
Earlier this week, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had asked MPs to contribute Rs 1 crore from their MPLADS to the PM CARES Fund. They had also asked MPs to contribute a month’s salary to the PM CARES Fund.
“This fund will enable micro donations as a result of which a large number of people will be able to contribute with the smallest of denominations,” Naidu said in a letter sent to Rajya Sabha MPs.
The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) is responsible for overseeing the MPLAD Scheme, which is implemented by district authorities with the MPs recommending the public projects to be taken up.
With its circulars on March 24 and 28, the MOSPI tweaked existing MPLADS rules to enable funds under it to be allocated for fighting Covid-19.
In its March 24 circular, the MOSPI allowed district authorities to use MPLADS funds for “medical testing, screening and other facilities required to detect and contain Covid-19.”
It allowed a “one-time dispensation” to district authorities to purchase from MPLADS funds items not costing less than Rs 5 lakh for government dispensaries and hospitals, such as ICU ventilators, coronavirus
testing kits and PPE (personal protection equipment) kits. It also instructed the district authorities that this expenditure shall be restricted to the end of fiscal year 2020-21, and not be allowed to roll over to 2021-22.
However, in its circular on March 28, MOSPI asked MPs to recommend release of funds to a central government pool for fighting COVID-19.
It asked MPs to give consent for release of funds from the first instalment they will receive in 2020-21.
The ministry stated in the circular that the MPs should submit consent for this money to be given to “such Fund/central government poor or head of account as may be decided by the central government for managing Covid-19 in the country.
Each year under MPLADS, MPs receive Rs 5 crore in two instalments of Rs 2.5 crore each. Funds under MPLADS are non-lapsable. Lok Sabha MPs have to recommend to the district authorities projects in their Lok Sabha constituencies, while Rajya Sabha MPs have to spend it in the state that has elected them to the House. Under the MPLADS rules, an MP can donate a maximum of Rs 1 crore to a trust or a public fund.
The March 28 MOSPI circular also provided for “one-time exemption in furnishing of utilization certificate” for release of the first instalment, and exemption from furnishing of audit certificate for release of the second instalment.
Several MPs, however, are not keen to contribute to PM CARE Fund, and would rather follow the March 24 MOSPI order where the money from their MPLADS goes directly to a district hospital of their respective constituencies rather than to a central fund like PM CARES.