The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman to come up with a legal framework for the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) to ensure transparency and accountability amongst lawmakers with respect to the obligations under the scheme. As per data from ministry of statistics and programme implementation (Mospi), as of August 6, 318 MPLADS accounts from the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) were still ‘active’, or had funds lying unspent. MPLADS, under which parliamentarians get Rs 5 crore for projects within their constituencies, is a wasteful scheme—Mospi data shows that over Rs 12,000 crore lies unspent, with some of it having not been released to lawmakers in the first place. This capital could have been deployed elsewhere for better realisation of the development agenda.
CIC is proposing that the framework make MPs answerable under RTI for MPLADS. The framework, CIC says, should require lawmakers to present comprehensive reports on the number of applications received, works recommended/rejected, progress of works and details of beneficiaries. CIC also recommended that the framework provide for punitive measures for breach. Given how Mospi, the nodal ministry for MPLADS, has failed in monitoring progress under the scheme, bringing it under RTI may put some pressure on parliamentarians. However, a better solution would be to scrap the scheme all together. While the Supreme Court settled the debate on whether MPLADS violated the principle of separation of powers of the judiciary, the legislative and the executive by saying that lawmakers could only recommend projects to the district administration which then carried out the work, the fact is the scheme has fostered a lawmaker-bureaucrat-contractor/business-person nexus—A Surya Prakash’s Public Money, Private Agenda talks about how assets allegedly created under the scheme “couldn’t be traced”, and how, in one case, MPLADS money was spent on a length of road that was built under MLALADS funds. A CAG report, in 2011, pointed to such graft while recommending scrapping. MPLADS is a band-aid solution to the yawning gaps in the provision of public services—only, it fails even as a band-aid.