India's controversial district development scheme, MPLADS, comes under the CIC scanner

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  • The Indian Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is being questioned over massive reserves of funds going unutilised.
  • This funds are ideally meant to serve local social works or public projects to address the infrastructural disparities of development.
  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) has recommended maintaining proper records to enable transparency and accountability in the scheme.
A scheme that was originally envisioned in 1993 has hit a snag with the Indian Central Information Commission (CIC) pointing that funds have remained unutilised. In fact, resources to the tune of ₹12 billion of the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) are lying unspent.

According to the Annual Report published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme (MoSPI) Implementation, 91.11% cumulative utilisation of funds occurred as of 31 March, 2016. But M Sridhar Acharyulu, the Information Commissioner, presented two 56-page orders that strongly differed from that report.

The orders from the CIC noted that MoSPI had not been maintaining proper records of asset creation and is heavily dependent on the district authorities for utilisation certificates in order to release more funds.

Instead, the CIC has recommended that MoSPI should publish fund information by MP, constituency and work, along with the names of the beneficiaries to enable transparency in the system. It would also bring to light the reasons for delay with respect to projects and works being implemented under the scheme.

This comes as a response to complaints made by certain constituents who were unable to enquire about works undertaken by former MP members in their district.

Not the first time

This isn’t the first instance of the scheme coming under scrutiny. In 1999, the Standing Committee on Finance pointed to lapses in implementation. And then in 2002, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution put forward the idea that MPLADS should be discontinued entirely because it was a cause of disparity of power distribution between the centre and the state.

While the constitutionality of the MPLAD scheme is no longer in question after the ruling of May 2010 by the Supreme Court, problems relating to the underlying efficacy of the scheme still remain.

The whole point of the scheme is to address the inequality in infrastructural development from state to state. But the scheme’s fund utilisation and project completion show high variations geographically.

Importance of transparency

The scheme, in its intention, is not at fault. It actually performs an integral function of connecting MPs to their constituents. But, that can only hold true if the scheme is transparent. As of now, there are reports that MPs don’t even pass on recommendations to the District Authorities following which the District Authorities fail to send back accurate reports and fail at regular monitoring of assets to the government.

Transparency isn’t only important for the sake of ensuring that projects are executed but it’s also to ensure that funds aren’t spent on projects that are prohibited under the scheme.

And, a better understanding of how funds are flowing can allow the system to recognise weakness and clogs in the process of sanctions. Recommendations can be made accordingly to address the problem of efficacy.

If, at the day of the day, funds are lying unspent,then maybe they would serve a greater purpose if they are put to use elsewhere.

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