Pampering MPs

Pampering MPs

It is unfortunate that the government has not paid any heed to the reservations expressed by various quarters, both official and non-official, about the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and hiked its allocation from Rs 2 crore per MP to Rs 5 crore. The increased outgo involves an additional expenditure of Rs 2,370 crore an year.

MPs have been demanding an increase for many years and they welcomed finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s announcement on Friday. Other than them, there are very few who support the scheme. In fact, the widespread demand has been for scrapping the scheme altogether but the government has gone in the opposite direction and strengthened it. Originally the allocation for each MP was Rs 5 lakh, which was hiked to Rs 1 crore in 1994 and further increased to Rs 2 crore in 1998.

The conceptual weakness of the scheme was clear from 1991 when it was launched by the Narasimha Rao government. Rao’s minority government had conceived of it as a means to secure the support of MPs by creating a vested interest for them. Though the supreme court has ruled that the scheme is not unconstitutional, its working has been mired in controversy and criticism.

The court’s view that the legislators only had a recommendatory role while the actual execution of works was done by administrative bodies is not correct in actual practice.

The scheme in effect changes the role of legislators from law-makers to dispensers of patronage. Both the Administrative Reforms Commission and the National Advisory Council had found fault with the scheme as it blurred the distinction between the legislature and the executive. Problems at the implementation level have been serious.

The CAG had as early as 2002 found that there were many cases of wrong selection of works under the scheme, diversion of funds and pervasive financial mismanagement. The Planning Commission also criticised  it for lapses like irregular sanctioning of works, execution delays and lack of monitoring.

The government has kept changing the guidelines of the scheme in view of the criticism but it has not helped to bring about transparency and accountability in its working. States may also increase the allocation for MLAs, following the Centre’s decision. This will mean misuse and wastage of more public funds. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has done well to scrap the scheme and this is the example that the Centre and other states should have followed.