Bombay HC: MPLAD funds suspension-decision taken to fight pandemic ‘Unexceptionable’
On Friday (11th December), the Bombay HC held that the decision has been consciously taken for the aim of promoting a specific purpose, i.e., to give measures for the nation to fight with COVID-19, while refusing a PIL challenging the Centre’s move to suspend and divert MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds for 2 years.
Significantly, 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 using the MPLAD Scheme funds. The decision included in the impugned circular is, therefore, unexceptionable.”
The matter before the Court
A PIL litigation was filed by one Neelima Sadanand Vartak challenging the circular issued to the Government of India, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, dated April 8, 2020 by the Joint Secretary (MPLADS).
Notably, 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 08th April, 2020 and issued by MPLADS Division, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation announced that it had decided not to operate the MPLAD scheme for 2 consecutive years including the current financial year 2020-2021 and the succeeding one 2021-2022.
Union Minister (Prakash Javadekar) had said that the united amount of MPLAD Funds for two years (Rs 7,900 crores) will go to the consolidated Fund of India.
The important fallout of the impugned decision of the Government of India is that the MPLAD Scheme funds would be used to fight with the pandemic arising out of COVID-19 and not exactly for the purpose the same are deliberated.
The instant writ petition sought directions to the Government of India to start the MPLAD Scheme so that the funds could be utilized for the objectives intended, which may include safeguarding citizens from the bad effect of the pandemic as well as funding programmes and projects to restrain the spread of the virus.
It was mentioned 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 biased and harmful to public interest and the Court ought to intercede to set things right.
In the order, the court noted that not a single MP, be it of the party in power or in the opposition, questioned the suspension of MPLAD (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) Scheme.
The Court also observed that on the opposite, the MPs wanted (vide circular dated March 24, 2020) that the MPLAD Scheme funds be used for purchasing equipment for dealing with COVID-19.
Further, the Court said, “If indeed the decision of the concerned ministry were not aimed 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 adopted a grievance.”
Significantly, the Court remarked, “In an unexpected situation such as the pandemic, when the Central Government and the State Governments are exploring all avenues to save the best of health conditions for the citizens of the country and to make both ends meet, the attempt of the petitioner to have the initiative taken to use the MPLAD Scheme funds to fight with a pandemic, sponsor health and medical care related projects hurried, has to be nipped in the bud.”
While noting that the funds for the MPLAD Scheme are covered by the Union taking recourse to Article 282 of the Constitution, the Court observed that funds moved for a public objective could be effectively used to promote the purposes underlying the Directive Principles of State Policy mentioned 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 requires funds to fight, safeguard and aid the citizenry by giving proper facilities.”
Further, the Court held that by suspending the MPLAD Scheme during FYs 2020-21 and 2021-22, there has been no repeal of any legal right of a citizen which would warrant judicial interference.
Lastly, the Court observed that the immediate PIL appeared to be misunderstood because it seeks to challenge justifiable executive action and has no element of public interest in it, far less a genuine public interest.
In view of refusal of the writ petition, the amount of rupees one lakh put in by the petitioner stood forfeited.
The Registry was ordered to transmit the amount to the MH State Legal Services Authority for carrying out the objectives for which it has been created.
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About MPLAD Scheme
The MPLAD scheme was formulated in 1993 to allow MPs to recommend development works in their constituencies with importance on the formation of durable community assets based on the locally felt need.
Under this scheme, the MPs can recommend development programmes involving the spending of rupees five 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 J&K National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh and an NGO, Common Cause, alleging that the funds allocated under the scheme were misused by MPs in the absence of any guidelines.
However, 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 on May 6, 2010. On behalf of the bench, Justice Sathasivam authored the judgment.
Case title – Mrs.Neelima Sadanand Vartak. V. Union of India and Others