LS passes bill to cut MPs' salaries, Opposition demands return of MPLADS; India facing 'challenge' at border, says Rajnath Singh

Defence minister Rajnath Singh, addressing the Lok Sabha, acknowledged that India was facing a 'challenge' at the border, but assured that the armed forces were prepared to deal with all contingencies.

FP Staff September 15, 2020 23:56:04 IST
LS passes bill to cut MPs' salaries, Opposition demands return of MPLADS; India facing 'challenge' at border, says Rajnath Singh

On the second day of the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha passed a bill proposing a 30 percent salary cut in the salaries of MPs for one year amid the Opposition demanding that the government review its decision to suspend the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund.

Under the MPLADS, each MP gets Rs 5 crore per year to carry out development works in their constituencies.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh, addressing the Lok Sabha, acknowledged that India was facing a "challenge" at the border, but assured that the armed forces were prepared to deal with all contingencies.

He also said that India had relayed its concerns over the "unilateral attempts to alter the status quo" at the LAC to China, but stressed that India remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the situation.

The Congress also staged a walk-out after its MPs were denied permission by the Speaker to raise certain issues pertaining to the India-China border stand-off following Rajnath's statement.

'Embarrassed and ashamed'

In the Rajya Sabha, veteran actor and MP Jaya Bachchan charged that the film industry was being defamed and slammed those from the entertainment industry indulging in it, saying they are biting the hands that feed them.

Though Jaya did not take any names, her remarks come a day after BJP's Lok Sabha MP and Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan said there was problem of drug addiction in the film industry and also actor Kangana Ranaut's recent remarks calling Bollywood a "gutter".

Through a Zero Hour mention in Rajya Sabha, Bachchan said the entertainment industry was being flogged on social media and asked the government to protect and support it. Without taking names, the Samajwadi Party MP said she completely disagrees with those who called the entertainment industry a "gutter".

"People who have made a name in this industry have called it a gutter. I completely disagree and I really disassociate [sic]," she said. In a reference to Kishan's statement in Lok Sabha on the alleged Bollywood drug cartel, Jaya said she was "really embarrassed and ashamed."

'China violated all past agreements'

Addressing the Lok Sabha, Rajnath said that China had violated all past agreements through the violent conduct of its troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

"China has mobilised a huge number of army battalions and armaments along LAC and inner areas. There are many friction points in eastern Ladakh, Gogra, Kongka La, Pangong Lake's north and south banks. The Indian Army has made counter deployments in these areas," Rajnath said.

Referring to the Galwan Valley clashes on 15 June, the defence minister said Indian soldiers "inflicted costs including casualties on the Chinese side". He further said that the House should have "full confidence" that the armed forces will always rise to the challenge and make the country proud.

Giving details on the current situation, Singh said that China continues to be in "illegal occupation" of approximately 38,000 square kilometres in Ladakh while Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 square kilometres of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to China, under the so-called Sino-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' of 1963,

He said China also claims approximately 90,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh.

The defence minister also provided a historical perspective of the dispute, noting that China does not accept the customary and traditional alignment of the boundary between the two countries.

The minister called on the House to pass a resolution supporting the armed forces, who have been "defending our motherland at great heights and most inclement weather conditions".

Even though the situation this year is very different, both in terms of scale of troops involved and the number of friction points, India remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the current situation, Singh said.

"At the same time, the House can be assured that we remain prepared to deal with all contingencies," the defence minister added.

Rajnath also referred to his talks with the Chinese defence minister General Wei Fenghe in Moscow, stating that India's concerns have been conveyed in clear terms.

Rahul slams PM, Congress stages walkout

After Rajnath's statement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had misled the nation about the situation at the LAC.

"It is clear from the defence minister's statement that Modi ji misled the country on Chinese intrusions. Our country has always stood behind the Indian Army and continues to do so. But Modi ji, when will you stand against China? When will you take back our land from China? Don't be afraid of naming China," Rahul said in a tweet in Hindi.

Congress leaders also questioned the prime minister's absence from the Parliament, alleging that the government was avoiding discussion as it did not have the answers.

After the defence minister's statement, the Congress wanted to raise certain issues which was not allowed by Speaker Om Birla. Congress MPs walked out of the house and staged a protest outside Parliament.

"The country is supreme for our Congress party and we take pride in the bravery and courage of our armed forces. We wanted to speak in favour of our armed forces and had sought only one minute, but were not allowed to talk. There are many questions but we know that this government does not want to answer any," Chowdhury told reporters.

Chowdhury also gave the example of the 1962 war with China when the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru convened a session of Parliament as Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted to discuss the issue in Parliament.

"We wanted to see the same tradition carried forward, but we know that this government is not willing to discuss the China matter in Parliament," he said.

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that the country stands in support of the Indian Army but questioned the prime minister's absence.

"But where is the prime minister? Why has the prime minister run away from admitting in Parliament the failure of the political leadership. Has China captured Indian territory? Depsang plains, Pangong Tso Lake, Lipu Lake and Y-Junction, has there been any transgression by China?" he asked.

The Congress wanted to send a message of solidarity to the armed forces and a strong warning to China that they should not test the country's patience, Congress leader Gauav Gogoi said after staging a walkout.

"But no doubt there was an intention behind silencing the Congress party because the prime minister does not want to answer certain tough questions... When his own minister was making a statement on China, the prime minister should have been there. The PM's absence is a signal," Gogoi said.

'Penny wise, pound foolish'

In the Lok Sabha, several Opposition MPs backed the salary cut, but strongly called for reviewing the decision to freeze MPLADS, with Congress' Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury saying that the Centre was being "penny wise, but pound foolish."

While Chowdhury pointed out that the government was giving tax relief to corporates, NCP's Supriya Sule drew attention to the Central Vista Project.

"The estimated cost of the proposed development of the Central Vista is Rs 20,000 crore and "you (the Union government) are saving around Rs 10,000 crore from MPLADS for a building which we have not asked for," she said.

"Do you want a central vista and an office, or a ventilator and a good hospital in your constituency. It is not rocket science. I urge this government to come clean on this," the NCP MP said.

During a discussion on the  Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020, Chowdhury called for passing a unanimous resolution for the restoration of the MPLADS funds, stating that 93 percent of the funds have already been utilised, with a bulk of the amount being spent on welfare activities for SCs, STs and villagers.

"Everybody has called for the restoration of the funds, so why not pass a unanimous resolution that the fund should be restored," he asked. "I am appealing to the House that this fund should be restored."

Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said the salaries of the parliamentarians can be taken away, but the fund should be given back. He also stressed that the government should cut down on bigger expenses.

Continuing in a similar vein Sule expressed support for the bill, stating that the salary cut was a drop in the ocean but urged the government to rethink the freezing of the MPLADs funds.

DMK's Kalanidhi Veeraswamy too drew attention to the Central Vista project, stating that there other ways to raise the funds. "We had given the proposal that the amount of about Rs 20,000 crore proposed to be spent on Central Vista project could instead be used to combat COVID-19," The Hindu quoted him as saying.

Congress Member Dean Kuriakose said the total collection from the salary deduction would be around Rs 50 crore, which is very less compared to the economic package announced by the government in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. He also said that the decision to freeze the funds was wrong.

Shiv Sena's Shrirang Appa Barne supported the bill but said that the MPLADS  should be retained. As per The Hindu, he alleged that the PM Cares Fund, in which several industrialists contributed huge amounts of money, had no transparency.

Telugu Desam Party member Jayadev Galla, YSR Congress member Midhun Reddy and Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP Nama Nageswara Rao were among the others who objected to the funds being taken away.

While the Congress, TMC, BJD, NCP, TRS, TDP and other parties pitched for the restoration of the funds, the Central government maintained that the funds were needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of the funds was a temporary measure.

Responding to the debate, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that funds are needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and stated that"charity should begin from home".

He also said that the economy was affected due to the lockdown, and in such a situation, the government has taken important decisions to deal with the crisis. He also stressed that the funds were suspended as a temporary measure. "Whatever decision we have taken on MPLADS is temporary and only for two years," he said.

As per PRS Legislative Research, the proposed reduction to the salaries and allowances of MPs and Ministers amounts to savings of around Rs 54 crore. This is less than 0.001 percent of Rs 20 lakh crore which is the amount of the Centre's special economic package announced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centre had in April decided to suspend MPLADS funds for two years:  2020-21 and 2021-22. The money would be transferred into the government's consolidated fund.

'Centre should support Maratha quota'

In the Rajya Sabha, the Central government was urged to support quota for Marathas in jobs and education. Raising the issue through a Zero Hour mention, Rajeev Satav of the Congress said the Supreme Court has referred the issue of quotas for Marathas in jobs and education to a larger bench.

The Central government, he said, had not placed its view when the issue was considered by a three-judge bench. But before the larger bench, "the central government should along with state government (of Maharashtra) support Maratha reservation," he said.

Sambhaji Chhatrapati (BJP) too raised the issue of quota for Marathas.

Last week, the Supreme Court imposed an interim stay on quotas in jobs and education to Marathas and referred the matter to a larger bench to examine if the 2018 law, which breached the 50 percent apex court-mandated cap in the cast-based reservation, was legal.

Rajya Sabha passes aircraft bill

The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which provides for statutory backing to the DGCA, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), was passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha.

The bill that was passed in Lok Sabha on March 17 also entails an increase in the fine for violations from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore.

Introducing the bill, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said, "The operating thrust of the bill is to provide a statutory basis to these important agencies... This is necessary as we move forward with an exponential growth in civil aviation."

The amendments were necessary as tremendous growth in civil aviation has thrown many challenges such as saturated airport capacity, lack of trained manpower, limited manpower capabilities, he said, adding these are “happy challenges”.

Puri said the bill seeks to insert a new definition for three regulatory bodies DGCA, BCAS and AAIB, and added that they will be provided statutory recognition.

Lok Sabha passes essential commodities bill

The Lower House also passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which seeks to deregulate food items, including cereals, pulses and onion, a move aimed at transforming the farm sector and raising farmers' income.

Participating in the debate, Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, an ally of the ruling BJP, spoke about "misgivings" and "doubts" among farmers on the bill and two other proposed legislations related to the farm sector.

The Centre should withhold these legislations and work to address the concerns of farmers, he said.

Farmers in many states, including Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting these bills. The government has already brought ordinances, and the bills seek parliamentary nod for them.

Kunwar Danish Ali (BSP) termed the bill as "anti-farmer", and said it will benefit middlemen. TMC's Saugata Roy and Kalyan Banerjee also opposed the bill, accusing the Centre of taking away the power of the states while  Sanjeev Kumar Singari of the YSRCP welcomed the bill, saying that farmers need better prices for their agriculture produce.

With inputs from PTI

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