Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister used corruption and fraud to retain in power. Walpole still holds the record for the longest term of Prime Minister Ship. Historically indebted to Britain, Indian democracy appears to be passing through similar phases.
On March 10, 2003 Mr. Manmohan Singh, [then not Prime Minister] warned: “If you allow things to go this way, people will lose faith in politicians and the democratic system of government”. Mr. Kapil Sibal blustered: “We are crossing new milestone in corruption”.
They were participating in a furious controversy about the misuse of funds allotted under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). Samajwadi Party MP’s alleged that the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati, had asked her party legislators to divert some of their constituency funds to her Bahujan Samaj Party. Ms. Mayawati retaliated with contradict indictment.
The confrontation dented the prestige and credibility of MPs in general. MPLADS, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, “has hardly served its main objectives”. He has recommended “a thorough review of the present arrangements for the implementation of the scheme”.
Started on December 23, 1993 with a provision of Rs.50lakhs per constituency, the MPLADS was to enable MPs implement small capital works in their constituencies. The outlay was increased to Rs. 1crore in 1994-95 and to Rs. 2crore in 1998-99.
The Ninth Report (December 2001) of the Lok Sabha Committee on MPLADS recommended enhancing it to “at least Rs.5crores” in view of “the phenomenal cost escalation of every item of day-to-day life”. The budgetary grants for this scheme from 1993-94 to 2003-2004 totaled Rs. 12,140crores.
Under the Scheme an MP recommend works that would create “durable assets for public use” in his constituency to the District Collectors or Commissioners who get them executed through State Government agencies. The ownership of the assets vests in the Government. The works recommended are subject to the prescribed guidelines.
Interestingly, the scheme has been devised to provide Members of Parliament facilities comparable to those ‘in foreign countries’. Though, no such or similar scheme exists anywhere in the world.
The MPLADS is conceptually defective and constitutionally unfortunate. Firstly, it contravenes the Constitution as it disturbs the powers between the States and the Centre, counteracts parliamentary control over the Executive and distorts the role of legislators or MPs. Secondly, the Scheme follows no satisfactory financial procedure for deployment of funds, leading to serious contravention of norms of audit and accountability.
Whenever Parliament approves grants for projects the administrative Ministry implements the works subject to prescribed directions and rules. In case of failure, Parliament and its Committees fix responsibility and take curative measures. MPLADS upsets this parliamentary procedure.
Instead of strengthening the supervisory role of MPs, it makes them “participate directly in the administrative work of the country”. By his participation in the administrative system, the MP loses his constitutional authority and ability to control the administrative Ministries in respect of expenditures incurred under the Scheme.
Under the Union Budget, grants to the MPLADS form a part of the ‘Central Assistance to State Plans’. Thus, the constituency funds are merely funds diverted from those allocate for the States. District Collectors and the execute agencies of the States are utilized for works but no payment to the States is made for services rendered. Consequently, the State Governments bear expenses over and above depletion of the Central assistance due to them.
The Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation is responsible for budgetary control of the Scheme. The Audit in 1998, however, found that the Ministry had not done any bookkeeping. It was unable to provide even the particulars of year-wise release of funds to district heads and the expenditure incurred.
The 2001 Audit Report observed: “The Central Government transfers the funds for scheme directly to the District Collectors. These funds do not lapse at the end of the financial year. The usual checks and balances, which automatically become applicable to Government expenditure when Government expenditure flows from normal state budgetary route, do not, therefore, apply in the administration of the MPLADS funds.”
Narasimha Rao minority government, allegedly, devised MPLADS to win over individual MP’s of all hews to survive with 224 members in a 524-House. It deprives the decentralizing Panchayati Raj institutions to ingratiate the MP’s by over centralizing federal funding.
While the MP’s want annual allocation enhanced to Rs.5 crore, National Advisory Council has recommended that “MPLADS Scheme should be dispensed with and these funds should directly go to panchayats and municipalities”