There's a need for a relentless war against corruption from top to bottom

Delhi, India Jun 07, 2019, 10.40 AM(IST) Written By: Navendu Sharma

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph:( ANI )

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Under MPLADS, a sum of Rs five crore per year is granted to every MP for undertaking development works of his/her choice, but the scheme has degenerated into being a byword for corruption

Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s zero tolerance towards corruption, India’s record in checking graft at various levels leaves much scope for concerted action.

He could begin by abolishing the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), which has tarnished the reputation of MPs of all political parties.

According to the annual index released by a global anti-graft watchdog, the Transparency International in January this year, India improved its ranking in Corruption Perceptions Index for 2018 by just three points to 78 in the list of 180 countries in the world.

The watchdog noted: “Despite spectacular public mobilisation in 2011, where citizens demanded that the government take action against corruption and advocated for the passage of the comprehensive Jan Lokpal Act, these efforts ultimately fizzled and fell flat, with little to no movement on the ground to build the specialist anti-corruption infrastructure required.”

Though retired Supreme Court judge, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, was appointed the first Lokpal of India in March this year, the need for a relentless war against graft from top to bottom cannot be overemphasised.

With the new NDA government enjoying a more-than-comfortable majority and Narendra Modi at the pinnacle of his glory, he can probably afford to fix ethical deficits of yesterday, to leave behind a rich legacy.

Under MPLADS, a sum of Rs five crore per year is granted to every MP for undertaking development works of his/her choice, but the scheme has degenerated into being a byword for corruption.

It is an open secret in Bihar that a majority of MPs extract a cut of up to 40 per cent in the execution of works from their fund. This loot by the lawmaker-officer-contractor nexus is now prevalent across the country, with difference of degree only. Exceptions are very few. In states, the story of fund for legislators is no different.

A ‘surgical strike’ on this Gangotri of graft by scrapping the MP Local Area Development Scheme, or MP fund in common parlance, lock, stock and barrel is needed.

Having compromised themselves by claiming their pound of flesh, most MPs lack the moral authority to take officials to task for loot in implementation of dozens, or hundreds, of other welfare and development schemes of the Union and state governments.

The scheme was started way back in 1993 under dubious circumstances. A Joint Parliamentary Committee’s interim report in this regard was tabled in the Parliament on December 23, 1993, and accepted in apparent haste the same day, at a time when the then Union finance minister, Manmohan Singh, was abroad. The then Narasimha Rao government lacked a clear majority in Parliament!

The initial allocation of Rs 1 crore per year for every MP was increased to Rs 2 crore in 2003 by the Vajpayee government and to Rs 5 crore in 2011 by the Manmohan government.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that both were alliance governments. Incidentally, Manmohan Singh, the then leader of Congress parliamentary party in Rajya Sabha, had stoutly opposed the move to hike the amount to Rs 2 crore in 2003. But he, later, himself succumbed to pressure, to raise the amount.

In fact, a number of MPs had met Vajpayee during his prime ministership, urging him to scrap the fund. Getting wind of the move, a larger number of MPs met him, seeking not only continuation of the scheme, but also a hike in allocation. Vajpayee developed cold feet on the abolition move and ended up raising the allocation!

In sharp contrast to high percentage of expenditure under MPLADS, PM Modi’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana has not quite taken off, because there is no separate allocation under the latter, and MPs are expected to make model villages by monitoring effective and proper utilisation of funds allotted under various other schemes of the Centre.

The Administrative Reforms Commission, helmed by Veerappa Moily, had in 2011 recommended scrapping of MP fund. But the recommendation has been gathering dust.

The scheme has sullied the image of MPs and also corrupted the country’s ‘steel frame’ — the bureaucracy. With rampant cuts, poor quality of the physical assets built under the scheme is no surprise.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)