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BW Businessworld

Politicians Largesse

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The data on working of MPLADS (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) paints quite a positive picture: more than 90 per cent of the funds allocated has been utilised. But there are some notable exceptions: some MPs it appears could not be bothered to use the Rs 2 crore allotted for constituency development work.

A random selection from the official data shows that Railway Minister Lalu Prasad has ‘zero’ completed or ongoing works in his constituency of Chapra in Bihar. Same is the case for Telangana Rashtra Samithi president and former Union minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao and his Karimnagar constituency in Andhra Pradesh. In sharp contrast, is BJP’s Navjot Singh Sidhu: in Amritsar 291 works have been completed, 286 are ongoing and 275 are yet to begin. A surprise find is actor Govinda — an MP who was barely seen in Parliament — who has completed 47 works and is supervising two ongoing works in Mumbai North.

At an all-India level, however, the data shows a positive trend. Based on reports filed by district authorities, the utilisation ratio of MPLADS funds is above 90 per cent.

Data from 1993 (when the scheme was introduced) to March 2009 show that of the Rs 19,425 crore released by the Centre, only Rs 1,788 crore has remained unspent. Of these funds, Rs 13,636 crore, or 70 per cent, was spent by Lok Sabha members, and the balance by Rajya Sabha members. Incidentally, the Lok Sabha has an even higher utilisation ratio of about 95 per cent.

A sum of Rs 17,637 crore spent of small public works is quite a substantial amount. So how was this spent? Over 75 per cent of the funds have gone towards building roads, bridges, public facilities and educational facilities. The rest was spent on health, sanitation and irrigation. Not all of these projects were short-term ones. “Just because some work has not started does not mean the project will not take off,” says Kapil Sibal, a Congress MP from New Delhi. The schemes started under MPLADS do not lapse with the tenure of the MP. MPLADS, according to Sibal, has delivered results and facilitated optimal use of funds.

MPLADS allows MPs to recommend works of “developmental nature” and for “provision of basic facilities including community infrastructure” based on locally felt needs. These works are undertaken by the concerned district authorities, which also have the power to examine the eligibility of the project, prioritise works as well as supervise the execution.

The spending ceiling under MPLADS was raised from Rs 1 crore to Rs 2 crore since 1998. These funds, released by the Centre, are deposited by district authorities into a bank account held by the MP. Importantly, funds released under MPLADS are non-lapsable, which means that funds not released in a particular year are carried forward to the subsequent year.

This process of execution, however, reduces the MP’s role to a purely recommendatory one. Home Minister P. Chidambaram, an MP from Sivaganga, believes there is some scope for improvement in the “choice of the projects”. When the 15th Lok Sabha is constituted in a few weeks’ time, the newly elected MPs could turn their attention to reinventing the scheme which provides Rs 2 crore to each MP to prove his mettle as the people’s representative.

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(Businessworld Issue Dated 21-27 April 2009)