Information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur announced the restoration of the scheme at the Cabinet briefing and said that from next year Rs 5 crore –– the fund enlisted for the scheme –– would be made available to MPs. The government had suspended the MPLAD scheme during 2020-21 and 2021-22, to use the funds to manage health services and control Covid-19.
The government had started examining ways to refine MPLADS a while ago at the ministry of statistics and programme implementation to include digitally-empowering tools such as smartphones as durable assets that can be recommended by MPs under the scheme, officials said.
“MPLAD is governed by guidelines, which are revised from time to time based on the needs of the community with emphasis on creation of durable assets. But we have made the scheme demand-driven and the guidelines reflect the needs of the local population that change with circumstances. Last year, we made changes to include Covid-19 related testing and facilities, and now there is an increasing number of requests to look at, including laptops, tablets and laptops,” a senior official said. The government is in the process of going through suggestions and drafting additions to the guidelines.
Reports have shown that Covid-19 pandemic-induced online learning has adversely impacted the education of children from poor families who have no access to digital tools such as laptops or smartphones. A recent report by advocacy group, National Coalition on the Education Emergency, cited findings of a survey conducted in 15 states, which showed that 72% of elementary age children did not do any regular studies by any method during the lockdown with only 8% of rural children able to access online classes.
The parliamentary committee on MPLADS is also likely to discuss the matter on Friday. Issues that are likely to come up before the MPs, include the need to provide smartphones to poor children under the MPLAD scheme, the status of the proposed road-map for expeditious transfer of funds under MPLADS, reconstruction and rehabilitation works carried out in areas affected by natural calamities, process of revamping of existing MPLADS portal with new features and training schedule for familiarisation of Rajya Sabha MPs and the constitution of a monitoring committee comprising MPs to oversee the scheme at the district level, apart from the issue of pending installments.
Under MPLADS, each MP is entitled for Rs 5 crore annually, which is released in two equal installments. About 2% of the entitlement is to be used for administrative expenses. The recommended works should be for the creation of assets and amenities for drinking water, primary education, public health, sanitation, roads among others.
Under the existing guidelines, MPs can recommend MPLADS Funds for the installation of Wi-Fi systems in educational institutions, villages and select locations. Purchase of laptops is subject to certain conditions but permissible for community use only in government and government-aided educational institutions. Gobar gas plants, crematoria, burial grounds, the purchase of stubble clearing and super seeder machines and toilets under Swachh Bharat have been made permissible under MPLADS but subject to conditions.
Many parliamentarians have urged the government to restore the MPLADS fund that has been suspended for two years now for them to start development in their local constituencies. RJD MP Manoj Jha, Congress MPs Shashi Tharoor and Digvijay Singh and BSP MP Kunwar Danish Ali have spoken at length about how the scheme assists parliamentarians in addressing critical human needs within their constituencies.
According to government data, Rs 54,102.25 crore has been released since the inception of the scheme till last year, with an expenditure over release of 97.15%. The ministry’s annual report earlier this year stated that MPLADS implementation has improved due to intensive reviews made by senior officers in the states, and central monitoring of the release of funds, apart from training imparted to district officials to work on the integrated MPLADS website to make the scheme more transparent. An official said RS MPs can recommend development works across the state unlike LS MPs who are limited to their constituencies which often delays the process of submitting utilisation certificates and release of pending installments.
Last year, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation had placed a budgetary outlay of Rs 3,950 crore of FY 2020-21 for MPLADS at the finance ministry to manage the adverse impacts of Covid after the decision of the cabinet to make MPLADS non-operational for two years. Officials said the government had released Rs 1,107.5 crore against pending instalments of FY20 and previous years in FY21 to clear the committed liabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.