While some MPs from Punjab have been sitting on the Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds allocated for development of their constituencies, others are splurging them to woo vote banks of various castes.
Each MP can suggest development works worth Rs. 5 crore per year to the district administration. Even as the state's schools, roads and health care facilities are a picture of neglect, MPs representing Punjab in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are doling out these funds for the construction of caste and religion-based dharamshalas and community centres for "backward and weaker sections" of society.
Leading the tally is former union minister and Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni, who allocated Rs. 6.62 crore for the construction of dharamshalas and community centres in the state during her last two tenures in the upper house. She adopted the "small for all" policy, as about 445 allocations from her MPLAD account are below Rs. 1 lakh. Besides her love for dharamshalas, Soni also bestowed the largesse on providing gymnasium kits to the youth -- as many as 131 allocations ranging between Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000 under this head.
A close second is union minister of state for external affairs and Patiala MP Preneet Kaur. The three-time MP has spent nearly Rs. 3.19 crore for construction and maintenance of dharamshalas and community centres during the present tenure. The erstwhile Patiala royal's MPLAD account has generous allocations of Rs. 10 lakh each for Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal too. Preneet also ensured the district bar association of Patiala got clean drinking water through her MPLAD funds by paying for a water purifier.
The details of MPLAD expenditure were provided to Hindustan Times by Sangrur-based social activist Kamal Anand.
The third in the list of "dharamshala doles" is first-time Congress MP Vijay Inder Singla, who has made 162 allocations of about Rs. 2.25 crore for construction and maintenance of several dharamshalas and community centres in the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency.
Like Soni, Singla too is a sports lover who has made 200 allocations for multi gym kits worth Rs. 1.15 crore besides Rs. 1.37 crore for synthetic track in the War Heroes stadium at Sangrur.
Yet another union minister, Ludhiana MP and Congress spokesman Manish Tewari, has doled out handsome amounts for construction of dharamshalas and community centres in his constituency. A votary for proper utilisation of the MPLAD funds, Tewari has made 79 allocations of Rs. 1.1 crore for shelters for various communities.
Though the MPs of the SAD-BJP alliance do not match their Congress counterparts in this, they too are a part of the bandwagon. Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhundar has allocated Rs. 86 lakh, cricketer-turned-politician BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu has allocated Rs. 68 lakh in Amritsar for the cause, including Rs. 14 lakh for the Shiv Mandir dharamshala at Rajasansi. SAD general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has paid Rs. 62 lakh for the construction of the dharamshalas and Congress Rajya Sabha MP and former law minister Ashwani Kumar has given Rs. 42 lakh. Interestingly, Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur made only 16 allocations worth Rs. 25 lakh for these shelters, including biggest allocation of Rs. 5 lakh for the Aggarwal dharamshala at Kot Fatta.
MPLAD funds: How much can be spent, where?
The MPLAD funds enable each MP to suggest development works worth Rs. 5 crore per year to the district administration of his/her constituency. MPs can spend up to Rs. 10 lakh in any other constituency in India. Nominated members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha can also select works in one or more districts anywhere in the country.
Dharamshala doles: Top spenders
Ambika Soni Rs. 6.62 crore
Preneet Kaur Rs. 3.19 crore
Vijay Inder Singla Rs. 2.25 crore
Manish Tewari Rs. 1.1 crore