The cabinet needs to move beyond number-crunching when it deliberates on the proposal to increase the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme’s (MPLADS) annual allowance. Currently at Rs 2 crore per annum per MP, the amount that has been suggested is Rs 5 crore. The rationale behind this proposal is that till February 2007, 88.9 per cent of the funds has been utilised and that, of the 9.6 lakh works undertaken, 8.6 lakh have been completed. Given the propensity of legislators to fast-track proposals that benefit them, one won’t be surprised if the proposal is swiftly sanctioned. But it is perplexing that Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation GK Vasan and the Chairman of the MPLADS Committee, BJD MP Prasanna Acharya, feel the need for a hike when the Administrative Reforms Committee headed by Veerappa Moily proposed only a month ago that the scheme be scrapped. The latter’s reason: there is complete mismatch of funds with project implementation, not to mention a total lack of transparency.
The Moily Committee was not the first to suggest the scrapping of the MPLADS. In June 2005, the National Advisory Council mooted that the scheme be dispensed with and the funds directly routed to panchayats and municipalities. Six months later, a sting operation exposed five MPs accepting bribes for ‘sanctioning’ development projects. But the problems that dog the MPLADS since its inception in 1993 are more complex than the presence of rotten parliamentarians. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s review of the scheme for 1993-97 and 1997-2000 had strongly indicted its planning, implementation and monitoring mechanisms. Poor execution, incomplete work, lack of utilisation certificates, absence of accounts of funds disbursed, non-return of unused funds, ‘repeat activity’ in the same district and the lack of assessment of local needs were just some of the reasons for the dismal report.
But disbanding the MPLADS is not necessarily the right way ahead. For starters, no MP will be persuaded to part with a kitty that he can, if he so desires, put to good use for citizens. Claims that the scheme violates constitutional guarantee to empower the panchayats also haven’t found too many takers. At the end of the day, there’s money to be spent on citizens. Most of the projects sanctioned are infrastructural, for reasons that need little elaboration. Education, health and potable water are neglected areas. The road ahead lies in adhering to the outlay-outcome model, having less politics, more work and all of it open to public scrutiny. But will politicians ever allow that? One lives in hope.