Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top government figures will take a 30% salary cut this year, a minister said yesterday, as the country tackles the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the economy.
Modi has imposed a three-week lockdown to halt the spread of the virus, but it has left millions without jobs and many of the more vulnerable sections of society struggling for food and shelter.
The federal cabinet has approved a decree under which Modi, along with President Ram Nath Kovind, state governors and members of parliament, will take the salary cut as part of their social responsibility, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters.
Javadekar said the cabinet also approved a move to suspend the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for two years and this amount will also go to the Consolidated Fund of India.
These funds will be used to strengthen the government’s efforts in managing the challenges and adverse impact of Covid-19 in the country, he said.
The government is tightening purse strings due the coronavirus emergency and a fund – PM CARES – has been set up for relief efforts.
Home Minister Amit Shah lauded the prime minister for the decisions.
“The parliament of the world’s largest democracy stands together in these challenging times. I thank all the parties and MPs for their support,” Shah tweeted.
The opposition Congress supported the pay cut but criticised the suspension of MPLADS, saying it will “undermine” the role and functions of MPs.”
“Please note that MPLAD is meant to execute developmental works in the constituencies. Suspending MPLADS is a disservice step to the constituents and it will undermine their role and functions,” party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel “welcomed” the cabinet decision, saying that “in difficult times it is necessary that we help citizens”.
“As a member of parliament, I welcome the government’s decision to cut the salaries of MPs. In this difficult time, this is the least we can do to help fellow citizens,” he tweeted.
Marxist party leader Sitaram Yechury, however, accused the government of “fudging data”, and said it had pushed the economy “steeply downhill” even before Covid-19.
“Transfer of money to the Consolidated Fund of India, instead of being directed towards fighting Covid-19,shows that it is a measure to deal with the economic destruction caused in the past six years,” Yechury said.
Meanwhile, India is struggling to ramp up testing for the coronavirus.
Officials hope to be testing 20,000 people daily by the end of the week, twice the current rate.
Since India’s first case was confirmed on January 30, the country has conducted only a little over 96,000 tests, having focused efforts on identifying those who had come in contact with people who have tested positive.
The results show 4,067 people are infected, and 107 have died of the respiratory disease.
Officials believe a three-week nationwide lockdown will have slowed the spread of the virus in communities, giving them a chance to catch up in the race to stop a full blown epidemic.
Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Health Ministry leading the effort to tackle the spread of infections, said the country was increasing its testing capacity gradually.
“We should be not be panicking, we should be preparing,” Agarwal said.
“We have followed a pro-active policy from the beginning. Our focus has been on surveillance and contact tracing. Instead of the virus chasing us, we have been chasing the virus.”
Testing had already doubled in the last two days from 5,000 samples a day, another health official said.
“This is expected to reach 20,000 in the next three days and increase further over the next few weeks as per the plan,” the official said.
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