MPLAD:Yet another top-down approach

Lok Sabha elections are nearing. People are waking up to see what has been done from the funds the Member of Parliament gets. For those interested, here is a little bit of history.

The Government of India put in place the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) since 23-12-1993, (barely two weeks following the passing of the Seventy third and seventy fourth amendments on 6 December 1993), enabling MPs to identify small works of capital nature with emphasis on creation of durable community assets based on locally felt needs in their constituencies.

The initial allocation of Rs. 5 lakhs in 1993-94 was increased to Rs. 1 crore per annum from 1994- 95 per MP Constituency and further stepped up to Rupees two crore from 1998-99. This was based on a similar approach taken in Maharashtra. By now, all States have followed suit and created similar MLALADS, which vary in allocation from Rs. 40 lakhs per annum to Rs. 1 crore per annum.

‘Do away with MPLAD’: Petition

From the outset, civil society representatives, the media, political commentators and academics have been critical of the Scheme, as incentivising patronage politics. A study led by a former MP (Era Sezhiyan) provided several insights into the manner of expenditure of these funds by MPs. A sting operation also exposed MPs taking bribes, in return for the sanction of projects from these funds.

Following these exposures, several writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutional validity of the Scheme. The Supreme Court clubbed several these and heard them together as the Bhim Singh vs. Union of India case (the MPLADS case). The judgment was delivered on 6 May 2010. The bench consisted of J Panchal, P Sathasivam, D. Jain, R. Raveendran, K. Balakrishnan, JJ. (Click here to read the entire judgment.)

In this case, the petitioners made the submission (amongst others), that the MPLADS, by giving works to individual MPs, is contrary to the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India, which entrusts the entire area of local self-government to Panchayats and Municipalities. The choices and functions of the Panchayats and Municipalities are denuded by it.

The State averred that the Scheme is not inconsistent with the various other Schemes of Panchayats and Municipalities. On the other hand, it only supplements the welfare measures taken by them. There is no violation of the concept of separation of powers.

”Not unconstitutional, power to district authority

The court held that the MPLADS is intra vires the constitution. With respect to the above argument, it held that the Indian Constitution does not recognize strict separation of powers. The constitutional principle of separation of powers will only be violated if an essential function of one branch is taken over by another branch, leading to a removal of checks and balances.

It held that local governments have also not been denuded of their role or jurisdiction by the Scheme as due place has been accorded to them by the guidelines, in the implementation of the Scheme.

It concluded that under the scheme, though the District Authority (The guidelines show a distinct preference for the District Collector/ Deputy Commissioner to be the District Authority, as opposed to the District Panchayat) is given the power to identify the agency through which a particular work recommended by the MP should be executed, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) will be the preferred implementing agency in the rural areas, through the Chief Executive of the respective PRI.

However, the implementing agencies in the urban areas would be urban local bodies, through the Commissioners/Chief Executive Officers of Municipal Corporations, Municipalities. For that reason, the Court felt that the scheme did not erode the powers of the LGs.

No real power to local governance bodies

The Judgment indicates that there is a rather poor appreciation of the implications of the 73rd and 74th amendments at the level of the Supreme Court. There is no appreciation that these amendments have dramatically altered the democratic polity of the country, by mandating a third level of government. The Judgment states that ‘the amendment to the Constitution sought to strengthen the Panchayat system by giving a uniform constitutional base so that the Panchayats become vibrant units of administration in the rural area by establishing strong, effective and democratic local administration so that there can be rapid implementation of rural development programmes’. Not a word about local self government!

The local governments are seen to be nothing more than agencies of higher level governments, within a largely centralised polity, in which they can, at best function as agents of administration of higher level governments. The endorsement of systems of overlapping responsibilities between governments and the acceptance that MPs can engage in pork barrel schemes, spells a dismal augury for the future of accountability and fixing of responsibility on the appropriate level of government for failures of governance. This judgment opened the floodgates in the sanction of new patronage based schemes, or enlargement of older ones.

Following the judgment, the MPLADs scheme amount was increased to Rs. 5 crore per annum and many States have also revised it upwards.

This was posted on Facebook by Raghunandan, and republished by Citizen Matters with his permission.

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