Courting corruption

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) but the ruling does not settle the moral and political issues associated with its conception and implementation. The scheme was under judicial scrutiny for many years and the judgement shows the limitations of the law in assessing the merit and desirability of a government scheme. Even the constitutional grounds cited by the court to find the scheme valid are very thin and technical. They are not very convincing either. The judgement relies heavily on the accountability regime that is seemingly a part of the scheme’s implementation and the power of parliament to oversee it. It is well-known that this power is only on paper. The court admits it cannot strike down a scheme on the basis of its viability. But its observation that it must be made more robust is a comment on its implementation, which has been found to be faulty and scandalous.

The Administrative Reforms Commission had felt that the scheme violated the principle of separation of powers between legislature and executive. The Supreme Court has rejected this because the MPs’ role is only recommendatory and the actual work is done by local authorities. But the recommendation becomes a mandate in actual practice and so, in effect, MPs are given executive powers. The Constitution Review Commission noted that the scheme is against the federal idea. The court’s rejection of this view is again not convincing. The argument that the scheme gives an unfair advantage to a sitting MP over his political rivals cannot also be dismissed as wrong, though the court does not find merit in it.

The CAG has made severe strictures against the scheme. There are not many, other than MPs and MLAs, who support it. MPs have been caught demanding bribes for implementing projects under it and have been evicted from parliament for that. The court’s endorsement will unfortunately make it a more corrupt project. There is demand for increasing the allocation under the scheme from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore. The bigger the amount, the greater will be the corruption. It was introduced as a political bribe for MPs and remains a moral hazard. The judgement does not absolve it of its serious blemishes.

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