New Delhi: In a significant ruling, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has recommended that the chairperson of Rajya Sabha and speaker of Lok Sabha to consider various measures for making the utilisation of funds under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) more transparent and accountable by “imposing liabilities for dereliction of those duties and breach of rules and regulations which may include prohibition of certain acts”.
The interim order came in a petition by one Ram Gopal Dixit, who in September 2016 had sought information from the ministry of railways and ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MoSPI) on works recommended in Hathras Lok Sabha constituency.
In his order, Central Information Commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu recorded that Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of MoSPI had submitted that the MPs sent their recommendation directly to the nodal district authorities to whom they give the funds in instalments. While the CPIO of MoSPI did not transfer the plea to the nodal district authority, the railways ministry PIO also simply transferred the application to the PIO of MoSPI “without application of mind and without checking whether they had part information”, he noted.
In the detailed order, Acharyulu dealt with the larger issue of spending of MPLAD funds. He said during the hearing the appellant pleaded that he wanted to know how the works under the MPLADS in Hathras, where he was a voter, had been selected and also the status of their progress.
Government websites do not contain details of MPLADS spending
Acharyulu noted that while the Government of India had created a website india.gov.in for the Parliament and it had a page for each parliamentarian, the same page did not contain the details of MPLADS works in the constituency. Stating that the National e-Governance Plan was also being executed by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY), he said “the Government thus has infrastructure with enough web space for transparency to accommodate MPLADS information.”
Over Rs 12,000 crore of MPLADS funds lying unspent
The CIC also made a mention of the fact that the MoSPI had in its report of August 2018 stated that Rs 12,000 crore of MPLADS had gone unspent. “This agenda paper of the meeting to review the MPLADS shows that in February 2018, funds allotted but unspent stood at Rs 4,773.13 crore while 2,920 instalments of Rs 2.5 crore were yet to be released, resulting in a total backlog of Rs 12,073.13 crore,” he wrote in his order.
Delving into the important sectors this money can be utilised in, Acharyulu stated that “drinking water, sanitation, electricity, roads, community shelters – these are the kind of things MPs can spend their annual Rs-5-crore fund on. They can also spend for orphan homes, differently-abled persons, or build a class room in primary school in their constituencies.” He recalled how former chief statistician of India Pronab Sen had questioned why the MPs were not spending this amount saying “they have to be more proactive in identifying the needs of the locals”.
‘Scheme totally discretionary, prone to high corruption’
Stating that “there are no strict provisions to make it (MPLADS) transparent,” Acharyulu said “it is totally discretionary based massive funded scheme prone to high corruption leaving no scope to scrutiny at appropriate stages.” He added that “besides unquestionable discretion under MPLADS, the MPs are accorded high privileges. They have power of fixing or increasing their own salaries and allowances by making law without any pre-enactment obligations to conduct survey and fix appropriate scales.”
Cautioning that it was “difficult to prevent corruption in such a non-transparent massive funding scheme,” especially in a scenario when it was “totally dependent upon individual discretion with unquestionable privileges coupled with immunity of MPs,” the CIC said it was “sad that law makers of the nation did not make law for their own MPLADS”.
RS Chairperson, LS Speaker urged to provide legal framework for scheme
Therefore, in view of the importance of the issue of spending of MPLADS on projects meant for the daily basic needs and welfare of the people, CIC Acharyulu urged that the Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairman of Rajya Sabha to consider providing a legal framework for it “with specific duties and compulsory transparency obligations, definitions of breach of duties, prescribing rules and regulations, besides imposing liabilities for dereliction of those duties and breach of rules and regulations”.
He also demanded that certain acts be prohibited under the scheme such as claiming that assets created under the scheme were “not traceable”, spending MPLADS funds for private works of MP, recommending funds to ineligible agencies, diversion of funds to private trusts, recommending works to benefit MP or his or her relatives, and breaching any norms laid down for recommending works.
‘Annual reports, end-of-term reports be made mandatory’
Acharyulu urged the two constitutional authorities to ensure that this legal framework also provided that the MP should inform them every year about number of applications received, works recommended, works rejected with reasons, progress of works, and details of beneficiaries under the MPLADS during the ear. Also, the MPs be required to submit a “comprehensive report on MPLADS works after completion of term”.
He also demanded that they be made to provide this information to voters seeking it under the RTI Act and even generally. Also, he said the parliamentary parties should also be required to post these details on their pages in the official websites and also on webpages of their MPs on india.gov.in.