he Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is riddled with corruption, fraud and misuse of funds because there is no proper mechanism to monitor it. Instances of MPs bending guidelines to get development projects passed and misusing the funds are rampant. A. Surya Prakash's about to be launched book, Public Money Private Agenda: The Use and Abuse of MPLADS, gives several instances on how the money is misused.
A sum of Rs 25 lakh was sanctioned from the MPLADS fund for the construction of a "women maternity shed" at Thongkhong, Lakshmi Bazaar in Manipur. A library costing Rs 5 lakh was sanctioned in the same district, as well as a road branching out of National Highway 39 for Rs 4 lakh. When surveyors from the Nabard Consultancy Services (NABCONS) conducted a survey of the projects, they found all of them to be missing.
In Sikkim's East District, sanctioned projects for the improvement of a link road at Lingdum and the construction of playground, and fencing at Cheda School in Deorali could not be located by the same Nabard team.
In Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, the local MP built a 600 sq ft hall for the Bar Association of Ghaziabad. Lawyers use this hall as their office premises. This violates the guidelines which state that these funds should not be used for the benefit of closed groups or professional organisations. Similarly, even in Bareilly, MPLADS funds have been used to construct a building for the Bar Association, which is also used for offices.
Prakash, distinguished fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, told this newspaper, "MPs are never comfortable with restrictions outlined in the guidelines on MPLADS. The general trend is to raise objections, question the rationale behind the restriction imposed, challenge the rules and eventually, if all of this does not work, to seek waiver of the rule in respect of a particular proposal."
Surveyors found that in Haridwar district in Uttarakhand, Rohtak district in Haryana, and Ranchi district in Jharkhand, several crores of rupees have been spent from MPLADS funds to promote the interests of private trusts and societies or NGOs.
In Haridwar district, 18 works costing Rs 2.40 crore were allocated to a single NGO called Delta Development Agency. This constitutes a gross violation of the guidelines, which clearly prohibits repeated grant of contracts to private agencies.
In Assam’s Jorhat district, MPLADS funds were used to renovate a college hostel and a principal’s room and to provide marble flooring in a building.
Nine projects under MPLADS in Rohtak went to 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. The guidelines of the scheme, at the time, did not permit the allocation of MPLADS funds to societies, trusts and NGOs. 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, although a sum of Rs 1.29 crore had been invested in a single institution run by individuals, no inspection had been done by the district authority.
According to Prakash, "All this leads to allegations of corruption in MPLADS. Even in the sting operation carried out by a news channel on some MPs some years ago, charges of corruption were levelled because the MPs would sanction the works for a fee and would ensure that the bribe givers would be the implementing agencies."
Surveyors reported a similar case from Jharkhand's Ranchi district. They found that a sum of Rs 53.89 lakh had been spent on four works for Purshree Trust.
The misuse of MPLADS money to promote private enterprise or commercial activity of organisations is an equally serious violation of the guidelines, but it appears to be happening on a scale that should cause worry for all those who hold public money in trusts.
In Assam's Jorhat district, MPLADS funds were used to renovate a college hostel and a principal's room and to provide marble flooring in a building.
In Goa, the surveyors found private coaching classes being conducted in a gymnasium built with these funds. Similarly, a public health centre built for the Lions Club in Marmagoa has been rented out to a medical general practitioner.
In Shimla district, Himachal Pradesh, a multipurpose 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.
Prakash pointed out that the execution of the scheme is where the problem lies. "The need to install monitoring systems is of the utmost importance. Besides, if the set guidelines are not being followed, it is better to scrap the scheme completely."
Instead, as Prakash said, "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."
A. Surya Prakash, Public Money Private Agenda: The Use and Abuse of MPLADS, Rupa Publications, New Delhi. Pages 287, price Rs 395.