Over the years, Indian MPs have become a pampered lot. Although the need for an enforceable code of conduct for MPs was felt six decades ago, Parliament never got down to drafting and enforcing such a code and to lay down an ethical framework for the conduct of parliamentarians. However, there was no such lethargy when it came to expanding the privileges of MPs.
Anxious to keep MPs happy, every government has done its bit to widen their perks and privileges. The launch of MPLADS and the increase in the annual allocation per MP from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore is probably the most obvious example of how MPs are pampered. However, there would be less criticism of schemes of this kind if only there was even a quarter of this enthusiasm to enforce ethics. Parliamentarians fail to realise that the credibility of Parliament remains intact only when privileges and ethics are seen as two sides of the same coin. While they clamour for more privileges, their hackles are raised when people demand that the concept of accountability ought to keep pace with the burgeoning privileges of MPs.
The chairman and members of the Lok Sabha committee on MPLADS seem to get all worked up about what they perceive to be a downgrading of their role by the government. However, they become tongue-tied when presented with data which shows their colleagues in poor light. This attitude of the committee is truly worrisome now that around Rs 4,000 crore will be allocated to this scheme annually from fiscal 2011-12.
Here are some examples of violation of guidelines by MPs (and the kind of projects they sanctioned), about which the committee makes no observation although its report lists them all: ‘Assets’ allegedly created under the scheme which “could not be traced” by the surveyors; construction of community halls etc within religious places in gross violation of guidelines; construction of shopping complexes to promote private enterprise; diversion of computers bought for schools to commercial enterprises; supply of computers to private educational institutions; community centres built with MPLADS funds being commercially let out by the beneficiary agencies; and repeat expenditure on a length of road via MPLADS after the very same contract for the same stretch has been “executed” under mlalads—a similar constituency development scheme for state legislators.
Here are the details: NABCONS (Nabard Consultancy Services) reported that a sum of Rs 25 lakh was sanctioned from the MPLADS fund for the construction of a “women’s maternity shed” at Thongkhong, Lakshmi Bazaar, in Imphal West district, Manipur. A library costing Rs 5 lakh was sanctioned in the same district at Langol as also a road branching off from NH 39 for Rs 4 lakh. The surveyors could not trace any of these assets!
Similarly, in Sikkim (East district), two sanctioned projects—the improvement of a link road at Lingdum and the construction of a playground and fencing at Cheda School, Deorali—“could not be located by the study team as also by the official of the rural management and development department”.
One is reminded of the ugly nexus between the politician, the bureaucrat and the contractor in implementing drought relief programmes when one sees the report of the NABCONS surveyors from Manipur, Sikkim and the Agra district of Uttar Pradesh. The surveyors inspected a 2.6 km road from Gadi Ramsukh to the house of the village’s ‘Pramukhji’.
The first question that arises is why public money is being spent to build a road right up to the house of the village headman. But this is a minor infringement compared to the more serious issue—possibly one of fraud—which is at hand. The surveyors found that this road had already been constructed with the MPLADS fund. Now, it was being taken up once again for “upgradation”.
The surveyors also inspected a 1.15 km road from Nagla Badli towards Dayalbagh in the same district. During 2001-02, a sum of Rs 9.03 lakh was spent from MPLADS for the upgradation of the road from earth work to soiling. However, the very next year, in 2002-03, the same road was further “upgraded” at a cost of Rs 9.32 lakh with MPLADS funds.
Equally serious is the finding by surveyors that in Haridwar district, Uttarakhand; Rohtak district, Haryana; and Ranchi district, Jharkhand, several crores of rupees have been spent from MPLADS funds to promote the interests of private trusts and societies or NGOs. The most shocking case detected by surveyors relates to Haridwar district where 18 works costing Rs 2.4 crore were allocated to a single NGO called Delta Development Agency. This constitutes a gross violation of the guidelines, which clearly prohibit repeated grant of contracts to private agencies.
The report from Rohtak is that as many as nine projects have been funded via MPLADS for just one organisation—the Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture—which is a trust. These nine projects involved a financial sanction of Rs 1.29 crore between March 1999 and July 2003. This is extraordinary because the guidelines at that time did not permit allocation of MPLADS funds to societies, trusts and NGOs. Further, even though such allocations were permitted later, the guidelines stipulated that the investment in a trust or society can be done only for a single project, not exceeding Rs 25 lakh. Finally, even more shocking was the report of the surveyors that although a sum of Rs 1.29 crore had been invested in a single institution obviously run by individuals, “no inspection had been done by the district authority”.
Another case of a similar nature was reported by the surveyors from the Ranchi district of Jharkhand where they found that a sum of Rs 53.89 lakh had been spent on four works for a single trust called the Purshree Trust.
Spending MPLADS funds—which is public money—on religious places is a complete taboo as far as the guidelines are concerned. But, going by the sample survey, this is observed more in the breach. The surveyors found a number of cases of violation of guidelines in regard to non-investment of funds in religious places in the state of Goa. In South Goa district, they found seven MPLADS schemes—construction of community halls—within or near religious places. Most of these violations related to religious places in Quepem, Gogal and Ponda.
Similar violations were noticed in Aurangabad district, Maharashtra. The surveyors found four cases wherein these funds were used to build what are described as “cultural halls” in lands belonging to temple trusts. In Ahmednagar district in the same state, the surveyors said they found cultural halls being constructed near temples “or temples were constructed inside community halls”.
Photograph by Manoj Sinha
In Shimla district, Himachal Pradesh, a multi-purpose complex was constructed at a cost of Rs 3 lakh and handed over to some private business people for profit. This complex now works as a business hub.
The surveyors found that the computers purchased with MPLADS funds for two private schools had been diverted for commercial use by the managements of these institutions. In Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, a concrete road was constructed at Pratapnagar exclusively for the benefit of a private housing colony. Also, the road was built on privately owned land, the ownership of which is under dispute.
Surveyors found that a huge sum of money—Rs 63 lakh—was spent to construct a commercial market complex at Khumbong in Imphal West district of Manipur and another sum of Rs 24 lakh was sanctioned for a working women’s hostel, which is actually a commercial establishment.
Instances of investment in shopping complexes were also found in Kilchettipattu and three other villages in Thiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu.
MPLADS funds were used to build what is called a mathematical lab in a private school in Kurukshetra district, Haryana, and to construct a room for the Kashyap Rajput Sabha, which is obviously a caste association.
Lawyers seem to have considerable influence on MPs and often get parliamentarians to put in MPLADS money to build their association premises. This happens in many parts of the country and results in regular violation of the guidelines, which clearly state that these funds should not be used to benefit organisations of professionals or such closed groups or to build assets that are not open to the general public. Field reports from Ghaziabad in UP indicate that a 600 square foot hall has been built using these funds for the Bar Association of Ghaziabad to accommodate lawyers, who use the premises for their offices.
In the same state, in Bareilly, a Bar Association building has been constructed with MPLADS funds and the same is used by lawyers to set up their offices.
Likewise, the lawyers of Bijapur coaxed their MP to part with some funds to build the Lawyers’ Association building, which is naturally meant for lawyers only. A community hall was built in Vadukuppam in Ariakuppam block (Tamil Nadu). The project was completed on August 28, 2006, but it had not been opened to public because it was “awaiting inauguration by the MP”. Similarly, a community hall in Ramji Nagar in the same block was of “no use” to the people, because “it had not been formally inaugurated”. Is there no limit to the self-importance of public representatives?
The random sampling of MPLADS works by NABCONS shows that there is a gross violation of the guidelines in many cases. If MPs and bureaucrats are allowed to get away with this, the loss to the public exchequer is certain to be substantial since the annual allocation for the scheme has been raised by 150 per cent.
(The author is a senior journalist and fellow, Vivekanand International Foundation.)
Apropos the extract from A. Surya Prakash’s book (Same Road, Same Ditch, Jul 29), we Indians are sick and tired of this whole financial abuse. The country is reeling under an economic crisis, the middle class is continuously squeezed by escalating prices, the poor are becoming the excuse for official loot. Enough. Please stop this free flow of money that fills the coffers of individuals in the name of MPs. India wake up, protest this misuse.
Rajiv Mishra, Chandigarh
Congratulations, Outlook, and thank you for saving Rs 20,000 crore for the people of India. You must now take this to its logical end and have the whole scheme itself scrapped.
Giri Gopal, Hyderabad
Commendable. Think of all the kids who can be fed and educated with Rs 20,000 cr!
Ritika Sen, Calcutta
We need some e-governance to fix this. All projects under MPLADS should be published on a government website, along with the amount of money spent and pictures.
Mitun Ghosh, Cupertino, US
The government is buying out MPs by increasing their perks so that they do not rush to criticise and wash its dirty linen in the surrounding oceans. No amount of scrutiny or satire will tire out the MPs who have grown a thick skin due to greed of ill-gotten wealth.
Can we not on the basis of data on record approach the Supreme Court to stay the further release of funds or even direct the government to scrap the scheme till a comprehensive audit under the apex court’s direction is carried out and submitted to it. Also, is there any way criminal cases can be filed against MPs responsible for such misappropriation?
Perhaps Outlook could have focused on the few MPs and mlas who’ve used the funds effectively for people. Very often, mlas aren’t able to get projects from the government, especially when they belong to the opposition in the states, and utilise funds under MPLADS for areas that are neglected and require immediate attention. Tiruchi Siva, the Rajya Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu, and T.K.S. Elangovan, the North Chennai MP, have used their funds effectively. Perhaps we need to strengthen the monitoring mechanism, and if a representative is found to have mismanaged funds, he or she should not be given funds for the remaining years.
Kailash Ganesh, Chennai
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Dear Prashi, Mumbai, USA,
I think you owe an unconditional apology to OUTLOOK.
I think you owe an unconditional apology to OUTLOOK.
Dear Prashi, Mumbai, USA,
Sorry to report, but you are one hundred percent wrong. The Outlook excerpts are completely faithful to the original text which appears on Page 269 of Surya Prakash’s book. Also, since you were laying such a serious charge at the door of this magazine, I contacted the author and secured an extract of the source document that he had quoted from: The Fourth Report of the Committee on MPLADS of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha, which recorded the findings of the surveyors. Page 57 of this report deals with what the surveyors found in Goa. It says and I quote:
“The following Community Halls were constructed near and within the premises of religious places:
i.Construction of Community Hall to Shantadurga Bhumipurush Sansthan, Quepem.
ii.Construction of Water Tank for Shantadurga Bhumipurush Saptakoteshwar Sansthan, Quepem;
iii.Construction of playground & recreation centre at Padma Narayan Estates near Multicomplex, Gogal;
iv.Construction of Community Hall for Dahajan Samaj at Karanzal in V.P.Madhai, Ponda;
v.Construction of Community Hall near Mahadev Temple at Cotambi, Quepem;
vi. Construction of Community Hall near Staten Temple at Xeldem, Quepem;
vii. Construction of Community Hall for Mahamaya Devlayala at Nundem, Sangeum”.
Where are the Churches? In fact all the seven appear to be temples !
I also looked up the suveyors’ report about Ahmednagar in Maharastra. The book says: “In Ahmednagar district in the same state, the surveyors said they found cultural halls being constructed near temples “or temples were constructed inside community halls”.
This is a factual reproduction of the surveyors’ report which appears on Page 63 of the Report of the Committee on MPLADS referred to above.
I quote the article "In South Goa district, they found seven MPLADS schemes—construction of community halls—within or near religious places. Most of these violations related to religious places in Quepem, Gogal and Ponda.
.... four cases wherein these funds were used to build what are described as “cultural halls” in lands belonging to temple trusts. In Ahmednagar district in the same state, the surveyors said they found cultural halls being constructed near temples “or temples were constructed inside community halls”.
So the South Goa constructions were in "religious places" with the religion un-named whereas the others were related to "temples" obviously Hindu ones. Why do I get the feeling that the "religious places" in South Goa were Christian churches that Outlook magazine was loath to name whereas the temple constructions were fair game to call out as temples? If true, my guess is that these were Outlook edits to Surya Prakash's original where he was clear about the religion. Yes, yes, I could be wrong but going by Outlook's habits in that regard, it would be an exception.
Congrats Sir. I wanted to give my comments on OUTLOOK. Can we not on the basis of data on record approach SC to stay further release of funds or even direct the Government to scrap the scheme till a comprehensive audit under SC direction is carried out & submitted to SC? Is there any way criminal cases can be filed against MPs responsible for such misappropriation?
There are some MPs and MLA's who have the used the funds effectively for people . I would be happy if outlook had published some info on that too . Many times MLA's ( not MP's) are not able to get projects from govt especially when they belong to opposition in states . In those situations MLA's are utilising the funds for their constitution which requires immediate attention and which is neglected by govt . I agree lot of funds mismanagement happening but few representatives are using it effectively too . Monitoring mechanism needs to be strenthened and if a representative has mismanaged the funds he/she should not be given funds in the remaining years . MP's Tiruchi Siva (Rajyasabha MP from TN ) and TKS Elangovan (North Chennai MP ) have used their funds effectively
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