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Help denied

By GovernanceToday
In Governance Watch
June 28, 2016
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The use or misuse of  MPLADS fund remains a serious concern as it amounts to refusal of  timely intervention by the people’s representatives

help-deniedLekshmi Parameswaran

Ever imagined what it is to be a toothless lion? Endowed with the powerful exterior but lacking the strength to  win crucial battles? The case of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme popularly known as MPLADS is no different.  The policy is a powerful weapon in the hands of the Indian MPs to directly facilitate works and empower the needy. Unfortunately such a potent tool remains either unused or misused by those in power.

Formulated in 1993 by the then Narasimha Rao government, the scheme initially allocated Rs 50 lakhs to each MP to bring about developmental works in his/her constituency. The amount was later increased to Rs 1 crore in 1994-95, to Rs 2 crore in 1998-99 and then to Rs 5 crore in 2011. Under the scheme, the MPs can recommend projects to the District Authority headed by the District Collector who then looks after its implementation. Out of the total allocated amount, the MPs are also given the discretionary power to spend Rs 10 lakhs for use in any other constituency in India. The agency responsible for looking into its working is the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MOSPI).

What makes the MPLADS fund unique is that a legislator can bring about meaningful changes by concentrating on the area specific needs. It can bypass the central and state government machinery since the entire power of deciding on a project is vested with the MP. The Rs 4,000 crore that is kept aside for this particular scheme can truly provide reprieve for those in dismal necessity. It is here that the irony also lies. According to the data released by MOSPI, 298 of the 542 members of the current Lok Sabha have not spent a penny from the funds. That effectively means 55% of the elected representatives has chosen dormancy over pro-activism.

Uttar Pradesh, Maharastra and Bihar are the states topping the list for zero use of the funds. It also includes the names of some prominent ministers of the BJP government like Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Kalraj Mishra and Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Ananth Kumar for non-usage of the amount allocated. Congress Preisdent, Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party Leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav are some of the other important names on the list. This in itself is a worrying aspect as this shows that even the top leaders of leading national political parties do not take the scheme seriously. In a scenario like this, it is only natural for the citizens who have elected them to power doubt their commitment to ensure the welfare of the people. But what is of even more concern is when the MPs decide to use the funds for particular projects.

Lax standards

The provision where the MPs are given the exclusive power to decide on the works has also become the policy’s regressive force. With accountability, or the efficacy mesurement completely lacking, the amount is spent on areas that cannot be justified in logical terms. Another factor that goes against the spirit of the scheme is that the unused funds can be carried to the next financial year. This results in the accumulation of huge sums which can be later misused for other purposes.  An effective check should be made on this to ensure correct and timely usage of funds for areaspecific welfare measures.

Also, there are no clear guidelines specifying the use of these funds. Though the list mentions construction of roads, school buildings and so on as the works that can be taken up under the category of durable assets, the overlapping of the same with the powers of the local authorities make it difficult to identify the right projects. In addition to this, the clause which carries the mention of those not covered under the scheme like construction of memorials, religious places of worship, works of private organizations and acquisition of lands have been violated many a times.

help-denied2Making the situation worse is the fact that the District Collector who is the nodal implementing agency is not given enough power to do a close scrutiny of the project undertaken. The decision of the MP is often the final word in the undertaking of a work. The collector can voice displeasure only in the case of technical issues or in the case of blatant violation of guidelines. Considering the power that the political parties wield in India, the latter is never a feasible option. The MOSPI has also not been successful in obtaining utilization certificates from the concerned authorities.

It has been observed that in constituencies where there has been utilization of the MPLADS fund, it has been often for the purposes of constructions especially schools and roads. And on occasions where funds were granted for the construction of community centers or libraries, it was often for the mask of running a religious centre or a party office. It has also come to the light that political party affiliations played a major role in deciding the fate of the project. Yet another occasion when it looked like the funds were not put to good use was during the installation of high mast lighting in many of the cities.

This is not to say that schools, good street lighting and roads should figure low in the priorities of legislators. But a fact that is forgotten here is that all this can be taken care of by the local bodies and MPLADS was meant to serve a much higher useful and productive purposes.  The end goals of the MPs in the present times have become to construct more and more buildings that will have their name on them. Garnering the right kind of publicity for the next elections has become far more important than seeing development in the right light.

Is scrapping the answer?

The current debates in the Parliament to increase the allocation of the MPLADS fund is countered by calls from the taxpayers for completely doing away with the scheme. The question then becomes if this is the right approach? The Supreme Court in its judgment in 2010 has clearly validated the constitutionality of the MPLADS scheme.  And an analysis of the social and economic realities in India would project the need for its existence.

What should be done to give power to such a visionary policy measure is to make it more accountable and transparent. Efforts like helping terminally ill patients, educating the meritorious students and the like can never be criticized. Instead what the policy makers can do is to institute a monitoring agency that can sanction the projects and overlook its implementation. There is also a need to formulate clearer guidelines where the powers of the MPs do not overlap with those of the local bodies.

Moreover, the money that is sanctioned for construction works often does not cover all costs. Because of this, low quality materials are used that would endanger the safety of hundreds of people. Another anomaly is that funds from MPLADS cannot be used for maintenance and repair works. Unless an MP is not vested with the responsibility of maintaining a project well, MPLADS will remain a useless tool as far as the common public is concerned.

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