Ever since I started watching Bollywood movies, I would always see a corrupt politician and a failed system. Not in just one movie, but in every other movie. I would always think, is there no honest leader in the country? How did the system get corrupt? Was the system created to be like this or did it get corrupt over the years? I am sure a lot of people would have thought this.
Media is eyes and ears of a democracy. It is a duty of everyone who likes to refer to himself as a journalist, to highlight issues that are responsible for infecting a system. But unfortunately it has not been the case for long long time now. On the contrary, a lot of media houses are making it difficult for those who are trying to fix a broken system. For instance, before November the 8th, 2016 news headlines like “suitcases full of cash”, “room full of cash”, “loads of money found hidden in a politicians bedroom, boxroom, garage” etc. were common. All of a sudden after demonetization, headlines became- “corruption has nothing to do with cash“, “Cash is used by the poor“, “Black money is not in the form of cash.”
Media hypocrisy over MPLADS funds
Here is one more recent example of how Media is behaving exactly opposite to how it should be behaving. Before April the 6th, 2020 headlines were like “MPLADS breed corruption and should be abolished”, but as soon as the government suspended MPLADS for a couple of years, the news headlines are like “Decision to suspend MPLADS will hurt poor” and many more. It is simple, incite fear in the mind of a poor or an ill-informed person who unfortunately doesn’t have the willingness or enough ways to verify the headlines that are shoved down their throats by some.
Recently, the Modi Government cut the salaries of the MPs by 30% and suspended MPLADS for two years.
Now, the opposition is not complaining about the 30% cut in the salary but they are complaining about the suspension of MPLADS.
What is MPLADS and why are the opposition parties so upset about it?
Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) was introduced by Indian National Congress in 1993 at the time when it was trying to keep its coalition government intact. According to the scheme, every MP was entitled to Rs 2 lakh every year for the development of his/her local area. This was a kind of bribe paid at that time by the then ruling coalition to retain the MPs. The amount over the years increased to Rs 2 crores and today it is Rs 5 Crore per year per MP. Also, a similar scheme is available for the MLAs, however, the amount for them is between Rs 2 crore to Rs 4 crore, varying from state to state.
The governments so far have released Rs. 53,704.75 crores as of March 4, 2020. According to the same report, only 5,000 crores is unused and the rest is spent. Where did the money go? You might be inclined to say, it was for development and has been used for that. Is it?
Rahul Gandhi himself wanted this scheme to be scrapped before the general elections in 2014. It is quite interesting to see how politicians behave differently before and after elections. Take the example of his own conventional seat, Amethi. It has been a Congress bastion for decades. Before the 2019 elections, Mr Gandhi would have had at the very least infrastructure of worth Rs 65 crores to show in his report card. Was any of it there?
There have been books written on how MPs have been abusing these funds. Public Money, Private Agenda: The Use and Abuse of MPLADS by A Surya Prakash is one such book that provides a comprehensive look at this scheme.
Excerpts from the book:
“Assets” allegedly created under the scheme “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 centers 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 has been “executed” under MLALADS – a similar constituency development scheme for state legislators.
The auditors have also come up with evidence which establishes fraud. Some samples of state- and district-level records showed misappropriation of funds in some states including West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Mizoram.
In Sikkim, funds from this scheme were used to construct anti-erosion bunds and walls to protect the private property of the MP and his relatives. Of 22 works sanctioned, all but one related to private property and in a dozen cases the contractors were also the beneficiaries. But, the biggest area of misuse is the allocation of these funds to trusts and societies, often controlled by the MPs themselves.
Diversion of crores of rupees from this fund to the coffers of private trusts, societies and NGOs, or to effect improvements in private property or to further the business interests of individuals, are infringements that warrant the severest action.
Now you know why roads were getting built again and again in your neighbourhood, why and how private trusts and NGOs were budding in your city. And still, at the year-end, there were not enough roads. MPLADS were sure used for the development, but not for the constituency’s. The money does not come straight to the MPs account, it has to go through the district magistrate. Now, you can see how the nexus builds up; politicians, bureaucrats and contractors.
The Indian National Congress had made corruption a lifestyle in various ways. MPLADS is one of the many ways where corruption and bribery were legalized. The party has used the funds whichever way it found useful for the party. There have been instances where Congress has used the funds to promote its schemes like MGNREGA. Even the people who did not have a constituency to develop wanted these funds. Hamid Ansari, the afraid vice president raised havoc when he did not receive his share of the pie (after all he has the first right on the country’s resources, doesn’t he?), he wanted it even when he did not represent any constituency at that time.
I am not surprised when TMC MPs say “Don’t cut MPLADS instead take full salary”. An MP makes around Rs 3.3 lakhs in a month, You don’t need rocket science to see their desperation to save 5 crores by offering 39-40 lakhs.
What I am writing today is not new, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament and Planning Commission had termed MPLADS useless and corruption-generating. A TV-sting caught Parliamentarians taking a bribe to approve schemes to be funded through MPLADS. Even though the evils of this scheme were well known for years, why was it still running?
The policymakers in Congress must be laughing looking at us when we thought corruption is a middle-class businessman selling a thing at a higher price than the marked price or a traffic cop asking for 100 rupees. Tell me if I am wrong. Congress along with the media always promoted a bottom-up approach to fight corruption i.e. fix yourself first and the system will fix itself. In doing this, they successfully hid what they have been doing. Whenever a common man tries to raise a question, they will say look at yourself, it is who you pay the bribe, don’t pay.
Congress would have never thought that there would ever be a government that would have the guts to get rid of this. Why? Because this would affect the ruling government more than the opposition. BJP today has the most number of MPs (303 in Lok Sabha and 83 in Rajya Sabha) and NDA even more. The senior leadership of the party would be in huge pressure from literally everyone inside the party as well as from outside the party. But the cabinet still went through with one of the most difficult decisions. Government by suspending MPLADS for only two years would be able to save around Rs 7900 crores.
Temporary or permanent?
However, the story is far from over. There is a reason why the mainstream media is not promoting this news on television. If this news is given a lot of air, the people would love it and the Modi Wave would be reinforced, this temporary suspension of two years would turn into a permanent suspension. Do you as a common citizen of India want a permanent suspension of corrupt schemes like these? If you do, it is one moment where you need to do something. What can you do? Since, media is not talking about it, we could do so. Talk about government suspending MPLADS on whatever platform you like, tweet about it, post it on Facebook, share this article. Make people aware of this. The government need people’s support. They can change the system only when they are the system.
When somebody is risking his political career for us, we can at least say “we are with you” Can’t we? Its a call for action. If we can’t act now, we should never complain about the system.