Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, December 12, 2010

FRESH from his landslide victory in the assembly elections, Nitish Kumar seems to be in a hurry— to clean up Bihar politics. He has just turned off the tap of legislative spoils in the state without caring a hoot either for the muted murmurs from his own stable mates in the NDA or the loud protests from the opposition. Last Friday, the Bihar Cabinet decided to abolish the ` 1 crore given annually to all legislators of the state assembly and the Bihar council under the Local Area Development ( LAD) fund. The move will save the State exchequer ` 318 crore. But the bigger benefit is immeasurable. It will help the Bihar legislators overcome the credibility deficit— that many of their compatriots across the country face.

The MLA LAD fund is an offshoot of the MPLAD scheme introduced by the Narasimha Rao government whose aim was to help MPs execute development in their constituencies. State governments followed suit with similar funds for MLAs. When the scheme was launched in 1993- 94, the annual grant was ` 50 lakh per MP.
The amount was increased to ` 1 crore in 1994- 95 and four years later, it was again doubled. Under the scheme, funds are directly sent to the district authorities who are supposed to examine and implement the developmental works recommended by the local MP.
The officials are expected to maintain details of the funds utilised and the work executed and are to send monthly progress reports to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. According to a reply given to a recent RTI query, the total amount released under MP LADS since its inception is ` 20,957.25 crore as of march 2010. That’s for about 800 MPs alone. Add ` 1 crore each to nearly 4,000 legislators for the last 15 years and it works out to a mindboggling ` 60,000 crores.

That kind of money over a decade and a half should have made our villages cleaner and the villagers healthier. But travel into the interiors and you will realise that in the past 15 years, things have only gone from bad to worse.

The reason is simple: there are just too many middlemen walking away with the cash meant for the poor. The flood of central schemes like the JNNURM, MNREGA and suchlike have only made matters easier for the touts: there is too much duplication and too little accountability. That’s why nobody is surprised when audits show that the same stretch of road has been constructed under differ- Narasimha Rao ent schemes or that the same well is shown to have been built five different times.

Last year, a CAG review of some MPLAD schemes found many instances of the money being diverted for purposes it was clearly not meant for.

In Andhra Pradesh, the CAG found that money released by the Centre for development was parked in term deposits in banks in violation of rules which clearly state that money should be kept in savings accounts in nationalised banks and is not to be kept in fixed deposits.

An earlier CAG review found huge amounts of money being diverted to purposes ranging from building clubs to renovating schools owned by powerful politicians or their relatives or even landscaping some bigwig’s front yard. Despite such massive frauds, the programme implementation ministry had proposed last year to increase the annual outlay for each MP from ` 2 to ` 5 crore. The suggestion was thrown out by the Planning Commission with one official remarking that “ MPs would do better making laws than administering development work”.
Nitish has taken a very bold step and deserves all praise. He is the first Chief Minister in the country to do so. It has added several inches to his stature, besides giving him the moral right to do everything for probity. He has clearly taken his idea of governance a notch above the rest.
Indeed, it is heartening to note that Bihar— which is largely known as a land of scams— has just dished out a lesson in good governance for rest of the country.

Without the LAD funds, which many describe as the drip- dripdrip of corruption used in creating foot soldiers, the public representatives will have to increasingly represent people to stay relevant in their constituencies. For once it can be said that Bihar has shown the way. It’s now up to the rest of the country to follow.

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