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NATION MPLADS funds’ suspension divides parties, even BJP

April 08, 2020 06:32 AM


MPLADS funds’ suspension divides parties, even BJP
Radhika Ramaseshan
TWEETS @MumbaiMirror

The Centre’s decision to suspend the MPLADS (Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) funds for two years starting April 1 has ostensibly divided parties internally, instead of pitting a united Opposition against the ruling BJP.

Broadly, the views have forked into the “India versus Bharat” paradigm, with MPs from poorer states dissenting against the suspension while those from the relatively better-off provinces argued that lawmakers should confine themselves to policy-and-law making instead of getting into the brass tacks of development.

The MPLADS was initiated in 1993 by the former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, seemingly to allow members to develop a stake in their constituency’s development, and politically to buy peace and possibly inveigle their support for his minority government. To the MPs from the “straggler” states, the funds—each elected member gets Rs 5 crore annually from the Centre—were a supplementary but valuable instrument to connect with their constituents and make a difference in people’s lives directly.

It’s not as though every MP who followed the “India vs Bharat” template came from a deprived home. Sivaganga MP and Congress leader P Chidambaram’s son Karti was among the first who spoke out against diverting MPLADS funds to the Consolidated Fund of India and use them to combat Covid-19. Karti—who took on fellow Congressman Jairam Ramesh for endorsing the cabinet’s decision—told Mirror, “The powers-that-be have used a national issue to usurp power by stealth. When MPs have no discretionary powers, you may as well disband the Parliament.” Karti’s larger point was that the funds had “decentralised” the arduous process of development.

“A person in my constituency wanting a bore well could earlier get it sanctioned through MPLADS. In its absence, he will have to approach a district official who will ask him to get it through this or that central scheme which means cutting through reams of red-tape.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman Manoj Jha, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar, reiterated Karti’s views, saying, “I come from a state where doctors fighting Covid-19 don’t have protective gear. The Bihar government asked for five lakh kits, it got 4,000. My request to the PM is to make the MPLADS fund corona-specific, but allow its use and implementation to the MPs.”

In the BJP, the divergence panned out in two ways: those who advocated the “nation above all” credo to validate a “painful” decision on one hand, and a minority who thought the poor would be hit for lack of funds . MP from Karnataka’s Haveri, Shivkumar Udasi, represented the first tenet. “Small things like local roads and solar lights don’t matter in extraordinary situations. Covid-19 is bigger than those attacking the PM for the move,” said Udasi. West Champaran MP, Sanjay Jaiswal, baldly stated, “Charity begins at home and if the elected representatives don’t do it, how do you expect people to follow?”

Conversely, an MP from a distant north-eastern state said, “Whatever the national cause, that Rs 5 crore is important for my people because it gives them education, roads and health services. Central schemes like housing for the poor are never properly undertaken here as cement costs much more and loaders have to climb hills with bags of construction material.” The MP rued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not sound out his own parliamentarians internally before making the announcement.

The MPLADS funds were critiqued by independent policy wonks for years. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar was roundly lauded when in 2011 he scrapped the MLA Local Area Development Fund Scheme and replaced it with the CM Area Development Programme.

Jagdeep S Chhokar, who’s on the board of trustees of the Association for Democratic Reforms, had several issues with the funds scheme. “The order says an MP or MLA only gives proposals that are approved and completed by gazetted officers. There isn’t even a fig leaf because I have yet to find a collector who will disapprove of an MP’s recommendations, particularly when the funds come from him.”

Chakshu Roy, who heads the legislative and civic engagement at the PRS Legislative Research, remarked, “The withdrawal is a step in the right direction. It will allow MPs to focus on their legislative duties and not get bogged down by the operational nitty-gritty of liaising with the district administration

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