Parliament Monsoon Session: LS sees disruptions as Congress-BJP argue over PM CARES fund; RS passes bills slashing MPs' salaries

Lok Sabha saw a string of adjournments as the Opposition raised slogans against MoS Finance Anurag Thakur for his allegation that the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was set up 'only for the benefit of the Gandhi family'

FP Staff September 19, 2020 00:28:54 IST
Parliament Monsoon Session: LS sees disruptions as Congress-BJP argue over PM CARES fund; RS passes bills slashing MPs' salaries

The Lok Sabha faced an impasse on Friday with the House being adjourned four times during the discussion on the Centre's PM CARES fund, while the Rajya Sabha passed several bills in its session. Friday was the fifth day of the Parliament's Monsoon Session.

The proceedings in the Lower House were disrupted as the Opposition raised slogans against Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur for his allegation that the PM National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was set up "only for the benefit of the Gandhi family".

"The trust was set up during the tenure of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and was not even registered as a public trust but it got all relevant clearance, including FCRA," Thakur said, intervening during the introduction of the Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation of Certain Provisions) Bill.

"The PM Cares Fund is a constitutionally set up public charitable trust. PM National Relief Fund was set up only for the benefits of one family —  the Nehru-Gandhi family," he said.

However, after a string of adjournments due to Opposition MPs demanding an apology from the Union minister, Speaker Om Birla urged him to reflect on his comments. Subsequently, Thakur said, "I had no intention of hurting anyone but if someone has been hurt, I express my anguish."

Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha passed the Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020; Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020; Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020; and Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020, reports said.

The Lok Sabha also passed the Demand for Supplementary Grants for additional spending of Rs 2.35 lakh crore in 2020-21 by a voice vote.

Supplementary grants are sought from the exchequer when the authorised grants for government expenditure fall short due to any reason. The government said that the unforeseen expenditures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have necessitated the need for supplementary grants this year.

Ruckus in Lok Sabha amid discussion on PM CARES fund

The ruckus in the Lok Sabha began during the procedure for the introduction of the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020.

After speaking during the procedure for introduction of the bill, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that her deputy, MoS Thakur, will talk about PM CARES Fund.

Opposition members raised concerns about the fund and during his speech, Thakur targetted the Congress and the Gandhi family. He also alleged that the Congress had misused the PM National Relief Fund.

Thakur alleged that the PMNRF has not been registered till now and also stressed that alleged misuse of funds needs to be looked into.

When Congress members protested, Thakur said that "names of Nehru and Gandhi family should be taken" and alleged that the Gandhi family had "ruined the country".

In protest against the minister's remarks about the Gandhis, Congress members walked out of the House.

Amid the din, the Speaker first adjourned the proceedings for 30 minutes till 4.20 pm.

After the House reconvened at 4.20 pm, Sitharaman introduced the bill and then the House took up the discussion on 'Supplementary Demands for Grants 2020-21'.

However, Congress MPs demanded an apology from Thakur for his remarks against the Gandhis.

When Rama Devi, who was presiding over the proceedings, asked Chowdhury to speak on supplementary demands for excess grants, he said first the House has to be brought in order and then criticised Thakur for his remarks.

Then, Rama Devi asked BJP member Jayant Sinha to speak on supplementary demands. However, while he was speaking, Congress members raised slogans such as 'Anurag Thakur maafi maango' and some Congress MPs entered the Well of the House while raising slogans.

The House was then adjourned thrice till 6 pm.

Birla was in the Chair when the House recovened at 6 pm. Before the discussion on supplementary grants resumed, he praised members for their extraordinary efforts during this difficult time.

Birla added, "If anyone thinks that the Chair has hurt someone, I would like to say that it may be unintentional. For me every member is equal and protecting every member is my duty."

"If I say anything to anyone, the intention is not to hurt anyone but to run this House smoothly. If someone has been hurt in that process, I personally seek apology from him or her," he also said.

Opposition slams Centre over economy, GST compensation issue

As the discussion on Supplementary Demands for Grants 2020-21 got underway, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that Indian economy "was in the doldrums even before the COVID-19 crisis and the government's response following the pandemic has only made the situation worse".

Chowdhury, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the stimulus package announced to help the nation tide over the crisis was a "pitiful 1.7 percent of GDP".

"Despite our plea, the Centre did not take corrective measures (for the economy). It refused to accept that demonetisation was a huge blunder, it refused to accept our advice for a simple GST," he said.

"The Modi government's response to the pandemic-affected economy made the situation worse," he asserted. Chowdhury alleged that the government made a false claim that it has provided 10 percent of GDP as fiscal stimulus.

"It was big lie. The stimulus imparted by the Modi government was a pitiful 1.7 percent of GDP," he said.

Meanwhile, TMC, DMK, BSP, RSP, among other Opposition parties also criticised the Centre over the economy and GST.

DMK's Dayanidhi Maran also objected to the use of expression 'Act of God' by Sitharaman on the issue revenue loss of the state governments.

"Demonetisation was a man-made pandemic, and then GST was hurriedly introduced. How can the Centre expect the states to go for additional borrowing? The Centre is accountable for providing GST compensation to the states.

"The Central government's policy and financial response to the COVID crisis has been lukewarm; the economy has collapsed under the weight of the pandemic. It has not undertaken any economic reforms in the last six years," he was quoted as saying by The Hindu. He also demanded a white paper on the economic crisis.

Opposition MPs also slammed the Centre for its statement that there was no data on the deaths of migrants after the COVID-19-induced lockdown.

FM Sitharaman, responding to MPs' arguments in the extended session of the Lower House, said that additional grants being sought by the Centre are "largely" being directed for "people-centric activity" and schemes like PM Gareeb Kalyan Yojana.

She added that the Centre's total allocation for the MGNREGA scheme is now almost at Rs 1 lakh crore, "which is the highest amount ever spent" on the scheme.

She also said that the total transfer of funds to the state governments, which is the combination of amounts as tax and grants, is 19 percent more than last year.

She was quoted by The Hindu as saying, "The total transfer to states exceeds centre's gross tax revenue — it is at 107 percent. 61 percent of grants put in the budget provisions has already been given. There is a frontload."

Rajya Sabha passes bill to cut MPs' salaries by 30%

The Rajya Sabha on Friday passed a bill to reduce salaries of MPs by 30 percent for one year to augment financial resources required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, with Opposition MPs supporting the move but demanding the restoration of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS).

Rajya Sabha passed the bill on Friday, while Lok Sabha had cleared it on Tuesday.

Opposition members in both the House supported the move, but pressed for restoration of MPLADS fund, which has been suspended for two years. They also said public money should not be spent under such circumstances on projects, including a new Parliament building and a bullet train.

An MP draws a salary of Rs one lakh per month and a constituency allowance of Rs 70,000 per month, besides other allowances.

The Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020 will replace a similar ordinance issued in April this year. The consolidated amount of MPLADS funds for two years — Rs 7,900 crore — will go to the Consolidated Fund of India.

While supporting the cuts in salaries, most Opposition members who participated in the discussion in Rajya Sabha urged the government to review its decision to suspend the MPLADS fund for two years, saying it was necessary to carry out development works in their respective constituencies.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said this was a temporary suspension.

During the debate, Joshi said it did not matter how much money was being saved through salary cuts of members. "Charity should begin at home and that is the concept we have started. It is not Rs 4 crore saving as said by DMK member but Rs 53.9 crore per year from members' salary," he said.

On several Opposition members asking the government to stop various projects like the bullet train and construction of a new Parliament building to cut costs, Joshi said, "First you say public spending should be increased and now you are demanding that all these projects should be stopped.

Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, who moved the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, said COVID-19 has impacted the incomes of people working in the private sector and so the prime minister initiated this bill which entails 30 percent reduction in ministers' salaries.

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said around 70 percent MPs depend on their salaries and have to take care of every expense through these emoluments alone.

He said MPLADS funds are meant for taking care of needy people in their constituencies and are utilised for various things like purchasing ambulances and building small roads and community centres.

"It (MPLADS) should not be suspended for two years. How did you presume that corona will go on for two years? Even if you had to do it you should have reduced it by half to Rs 2.5 crore (each MP). My suggestion to the government will be to reduce it for one year and in that one year Rs 2.5 crore fund be kept," he said.

Similarly, Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP), V Vijaysai Reddy (YSRCP), K Somaprasad (CPM), Fauzia Khan (NCP), Veer Singh (BSP) and Nazir Ahmad Laway (PDP), while supporting the reduction in salaries, sought restoration of the MPLAD scheme.

Wilson said the Centre is suspending MPLAD scheme when various infrastructure projects like Central Vista project were still being taken up.

The Rajya Sabha also approved bills replacing ordinances related to the Central Council of Homoeopathy and the Indian Medicine Central Council on Friday.

The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to further extend the time to form the Central Council of Homeopathy by a year, after exhausting two years for the purpose.

The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks a year's time to reconstitute the central council and provides for a board of directors to exercise its powers in the interim period.

Replying to a debate on the two bills, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the government is committed to providing affordable and easy healthcare facilities to every citizen.

He also defended the Centre's decision to bring ordinances, saying there was nothing "abnormal" and that governments have been taking this route, depending on the necessity.

With inputs from agencies

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