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MPLAD Funds Suspension- Decision Taken To Fight Pandemic 'Unexceptionable': Bombay High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
12 Dec 2020 8:31 AM GMT
MPLAD Funds Suspension- Decision Taken To Fight Pandemic Unexceptionable: Bombay High Court
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While dismissing a PIL challenging the Centre's move to suspend and divert 'Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme' (MPLADS) funds for two years, the Bombay High Court on Friday (11th December) held that the decision has been consciously taken for the purpose of promoting a specific purpose, i.e., to provide measures for the nation to combat COVID-19. Importantly, the...

While dismissing a PIL challenging the Centre's move to suspend and divert 'Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme' (MPLADS) funds for two years, the Bombay High Court on Friday (11th December) held that the decision has been consciously taken for the purpose of promoting a specific purpose, i.e., to provide measures for the nation to combat COVID-19.

Importantly, the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni observed,

"The fight against COVID-19 has to take centre-stage over all other developmental works which are sought to be secured by utilizing the MPLAD Scheme funds. The decision contained in the impugned circular is, thus, unexceptionable."

The matter before the Court

A PIL litigation was filed by one Neelima Sadanand Vartak challenging the circular issued by the Joint Secretary (MPLADS) to the Government of India, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, dated April 8, 2020.

Significantly, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and India-wide lockdown, the Government of India vide Circular No.E-4/2020–MPLADS (Pt II) dated 08.04.2020 and issued by MPLADS Division, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation declared that it had decided not to operate the MPLAD scheme for two consecutive years including the current financial year 2020-2021 and the succeeding one 2021-2022.

"The consolidated amount of MPLAD Funds for 2 years – Rs 7,900 crores – will go to Consolidated Fund of India," Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had said.

The necessary fallout of the impugned decision of the Government of India is that the MPLAD Scheme funds would be utilized to combat the pandemic arising out of COVID-19 and not exactly for the purposes the same are intended.

The instant writ petition sought directions to the Government of India to resume the MPLAD Scheme so that the funds could be used for the purposes intended, which may include protection of citizens from the adverse efect of the pandemic as well as funding programmes and projects to contain the spread of the virus.

It was argued by the Petitioner's Counsel that the suspension of the MPLAD Scheme is not in the best interest of the electorate of the constituencies from which the MPs are elected and being prejudicial and harmful to public interest and the Court ought to intervene to set things right.

Court's observations

The Court, in its order noted that not a single MP, be it of the party in power or in the opposition, questioned the suspension of MPLAD Scheme.

The Court also observed that on the contrary, the MPs desired (vide circular dated March 24, 2020) that the MPLAD Scheme funds be utilized for purchasing equipment for tackling COVID-19.

The Court also further said,

"If indeed the decision of the concerned ministry were not intended to serve any public good, any member of the public irrespective of his financial status as a potential beneficiary of developmental works carried on with the MPLAD Scheme funds could have espoused a grievance."

Importantly, the Court remarked,

"In an unprecedented situation such as the pandemic, when the Central Government and the State Governments are exploring all avenues to secure the best of health conditions for the citizens of the country and to make both ends meet, the endeavour of the petitioner to have the initiative taken to utilize the MPLAD Scheme funds to sponsor health and medical care related projects scuttled, has to be nipped in the bud."

While noting that the funds for the MPLAD Scheme are defrayed by the Union taking recourse to Article 282 of the Constitution, the Court observed that funds transferred for a public purpose could be effectively utilized to promote the purposes underlying the Directive Principles of State Policy enumerated in Part-IV of the Constitution.

In this context, the Court said that in case of a disaster situation like the present caused by the pandemic, "the Government of India needs funds to protect and aid the citizenry by ofering appropriate facilities."

The Court further held,

"…by suspending the MPLAD Scheme during FYs 2020-21 and 2021-22, there has been no abrogation of any legal right of a citizen which would warrant judicial intervention."

Lastly, the Court observed that the instant 'Public Interest Litigation' appeared to be misconceived because "it seeks to impeach justifiable executive action and has no element of public interest in it, far less a genuine public interest."

In view of dismissal of the writ petition, the amount of Rs.1 lakh put in by the petitioner stood forfeited.

The Registry was directed to transmit thr amount to the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority "for carrying out the purposes for which it has been created."

About MPLAD Scheme

The MPLAD scheme was formulated in 1993 (during the Narasimha Rao Government in the Centre) to enable MPs to recommend development works in their constituencies "with emphasis on the creation of durable community assets based on the locally felt need".

Under this scheme, the MPs can recommend development programmes involving the spending of Rs 5 crore every year in their respective constituencies. MPs from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, including nominated ones, can do so.

Interestingly, this particular scheme was challenged by Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh and an NGO, Common Cause, alleging that in the absence of any guidelines, the funds allocated under the scheme were misused by MPs.

However, On May 6, 2010, a 5-judge bench comprising the then CJ K G Balakrishnan, Justices R V Raveendran, D K Jain, P Sathasivam and J M Panchal delivered the judgment, upholding the vires of the scheme in the case Bhim Singh v. Union of India, (2010) 5 SCC 538. Justice Sathasivam authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.

[Note: To read as to why the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Scheme in 2010, please click here.]

Case title - Mrs.Neelima Sadanand Vartak. V. Union of India and Others [Public Interest Litigation (St.) NO.92550 OF 2020]

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