Dr Manmohan Singh, as Finance Minister, and P. Chidambaram as Commerce Minister, dismantled the various restrictions that a person had to go through to establish a business enterprise in the country.
Various directorates in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry shrunk overnight and surplus officials were put on hold to be transferred to other departments of the Government of India.
The reforms were welcomed all over the country. However, those unhappy with the measures were Members of Parliament. Those days my office room as Information Advisor to Mr. Narasimha Rao, used to be on the same floor in South Block as that of the Prime Minister, and many a time, Members of Parliament used to drift into my room to have a cup of tea while they were waiting to see the Prime Minister. Some of the MPs would tell me that the major impact of new policies of the government was that the patronage that MPs could extend to people in their constituencies had come to an end.
I was told by some Members of Parliament that earlier people from the constituencies used to visit them in the Capital seeking help to get their proposals cleared from various departments. They now did not have to seek favours of the MPs. I was told by some MPs that they could not afford to maintain the huge establishment of liaison officials in Delhi. While people from the constituencies continued to visit the Capital, very few of them sought favours from the MPs
Many of the MPs asked me to convey their feelings to the Prime Minister. In one of my interactions with the Prime Minister, I mentioned this to him. Narasimha Rao told me that he is thinking of a scheme which would enable Members of Parliament to extend some benefit to their constituencies. That was the origin of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme.
Surya Prakash in his book traces the origin of the scheme to Maharashtra. The Bombay Municipal Corporation had set apart a sum of Rs 50,000 per year to each corporator to decide on schemes to be spent on municipal works in the city. Initiated in 1970s, it grew to a sum of 10 lakh a year. Mr Ram Naik, a BJP MP from Maharashtra, wrote to Mr Madhu Dandavate, who was Finance Minister in the V. P. Singh Government, seeking a constituency fund of 2 crore rupees for every MP. But the V P Singh government lasted for a short time and could not take up the scheme.
The coming to an end of the Licence Permit Raj and its impact on the Members of Parliament created an atmosphere conducive to the introduction of the scheme in 1990. The scheme was formally announced by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in the winter session of the Parliament in 1993.
Initially, the scheme provided a sum of Rs 1 crore for each MP to be spend in his constituency. Over a period of time the sum was increased and now a Member of Parliament can avail of Rs.5 crores to be spent on various projects in his constituency every year. It costs the exchequer Rs 4,000 crores every year.
The scheme is fully funded by the Union Government and the funds are directly released to the district authorities. MPs are expected to recommend developmental works based on locally felt needs and preference is given to works relating to national priorities like drinking water projects, public health, education, sanitation and roads.
While members of the Lok Sabha can recommend projects in their constituencies , the Rajya Sabha members can recommend works anywhere in the state from which they are elected.
Again, the money is directly released to the district authorities who are responsible for choosing the agency for executing of the projects. Guidelines were framed and the two Houses set up committees on MPLADS scheme to monitor their proper implementation.
The book authored by noted senior journalist and author Surya Prakash has made a detailed study of the scheme and he has pointed out how public money is being misused by the Members of Parliament to fulfill their private agenda, in spite of the checks that have been instituted.
At the release function of the publication on August 22, one had the advantage of listening to Mr Shivraj Patil, the Governor of Punjab, who was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha when the scheme was introduced, Mr Aun Shourie, the then Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation, who was involved in increasing the funds that a Member of Parliament could spend, Mr Purno Sangma, a former Speaker and Kishore Chandra Deo , who headed a committe whose object was to examine whether the money was properly spent.
Surya Prakash has dwelt comprehensively on the origin of the scheme, how various guidelines have been framed to ensure that the money released under it is not misused. He has also made a detailed study of the report submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India of the MPLAD Scheme thrice: in 1998 and in 2001 and in 2008. The reports pointed out various lapses in the implementation of the scheme and the CAG came to the conclusion that there was lack of transparency and objectivity in the selection of the works and there were some instances of fraud in implementation.
Surya Prakash has also studied the reports of committees set up by the two houses of Parliament of the scheme. The Lok Sabha Committee justified the scheme in spite of the many faults in implementation, as it 'attempts to foster a symbiotic relationship between the people and their representative in an innovative manner. '
The question of validity of the scheme also came up before the Supreme Court, which upheld the validity of the scheme in spite of the 'legitimate concerns' expressed by Mr Era Sezhiyan and Mr J. M. Lyngdoh and the available evidence about the misuse of the scheme by many MPs and the cases of corruption.
Surya Prakash has pointed out the lapses in the implementation of the scheme, and has concluded that the scheme deserves only a qualified 'thumbs up'.
He concluded:" Therefore, if MPs lack the discipline to conform to the guidelines, MPLADS must be scrapped".
The speakers at the function, including Mr Arun Shourie, Mr K. P Singhdeo, and Mr Purno Sangma were appreciative of the analysis of the scheme by the author. The present mood in the country which is in favour of waging a campaign against corruption was reflected in their speeches.
In an emotionally charged speech which followed the release of the book yesterday, Governor Shivraj Patil, who as Speaker of the Lok Sabha had instituted many checks and balances to ensure that Members of Parliament could ensure implementation of schemes which helped their constituencies, said he was in favour of continuing the scheme and correcting the faults in it.
The publication has come out at an appropriate time, when public attention is focused on fighting corruption in the country.
In the final analysis, public money should be used for public purposes and not private agendas.
By: I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer. Govt. of India. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Book review: Public Money, Private Agenda --The use and abuse of MPLADS by A.Surya Prakash. Rupa Publications. Pages 287, Price Rs 395.
--ANI (Posted on 24-08-2013)