Wise decision

The Bihar government’s decision to scrap allocation of funds to its MLAs and MLCs under the Local Area Development Scheme (LADS), while unfortunate, is welcome as it is aimed at curbing rampant corruption by elected representatives. Hitherto, the state’s MLAs and MLCs have been allotted Rs 1 crore each annually to use for development work of their choice in their constituencies. A similar scheme provides MPs across the country with Rs 2 crore each. Under the scheme, the money is sent to district authorities but the elected representative recommends schemes he would like to see funded. While some development works have been initiated by elected representatives under LADS, more often than not, MPs and MLAs have recommended schemes run by their family members or friends. An expose in 2006 had laid bare how MPs were channelling funds to non-existent NGOs. The scheme it seems was being used to dispense patronage rather than fund development work. According to reports, the experience in Bihar was no different.

Right from its inception in the early 1990s, LADS has been controversial. Misuse of its funds has been the main criticism against it. However, some have supported its continuance on the grounds that it is politicians who can often best understand the needs of the people they represent. Earlier this year, the supreme court upheld MPLADS’ constitutional validity and claimed corruption was not reason enough to scrap it as it has resulted in some development work.

Karnataka too has a similar scheme for legislators, but there is little accountability. It is despair over lack of accountability that prompted Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar to scrap LADS in his state. At a minimum it will save the Bihar government Rs 318 crore. There are other reasons why LADS needs to be scrapped. For one, it seriously undermines the role of local bodies in development work and weakens decentralisation of decision making. Besides, it assigns executive functions to legislators and thereby undermines the separation of powers. Around Rs 60,000 crore has been allocated to legislators in the country through LADS over the past 15 years and little developmental work has come off it. It is better to do away with it and think of new alternatives. Nitish Kumar’s bold decision must be emulated at the Centre and in other states.

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