A unique Indian legislative privilege
Reviewed by Khushwant S. Gill

Public Money, Private Agenda
The Use and Abuse of MPLADS
by A. Surya Prakash
Rupa. Pages 287. Rs 395

To the uninitiated, the acronym MPLADS stands for Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme. Started in 1993, this scheme is unique among parliamentary democracies of the world as it provides each MP with a sum of Rs 5 crore each year to be used to develop the infrastructure of her or his particular constituency. At face value this seems a perfectly sound method to ensure development at a local level, but as A. Surya Prakash elaborates, things are not so simple. For students of Indian polity, this controversy makes for informative reading.

For one thing, this scheme blurs the boundary between the legislative and executive function. Legislators are elected to legislate laws and the Executive ensures their implementation. In a case like MPLADS the execution of the scheme is the responsibility of the local MP, who in most cases takes extra interest in its implementation. The reasons are obvious. An MP would like to personally hand out a cheque for a development scheme, or have his name enshrined in a plaque at the site. The people elect the MP and he has to do everything in his power to remain in the limelight and be seen to be connected with all development projects in the constituency. This cannot be logically faulted in a vibrant democracy like India.

However, the problems creep in when such schemes become the primary interest of the MP and time spent in Parliament and legislating important laws for the nation takes a backseat. Then comes the issue of corruption. While it is not a universal malaise, Surya Prakash points to certain incidents where sting operations were conducted against some MPs in 2005 by a television channel "which showed how MPs were trying to make money on the side while allocating MPLADS funds for projects." These MPs "wanted commissions to clear projects under this scheme". Besides some instances of corruption, a bigger issue is the encroachment and overlap that sometimes results between MPLADS and the Central and State Governments' regular schemes and plans. Technically, MPLADS are meant primarily for infrastructure, but in reality they are used across the board for education, employment, health and other projects.

The author quotes the Supreme Court's view and judgment of the MPLADS as being perfectly constitutional, as not resulting in an unfair advantage to a sitting Member of Parliament and does not amount to a corrupt practice. It further clearly states, "The constitutional principle of separation of powers will only be violated if an essential function of one branch is taken over by another branch...Even though MPs have been given a seemingly executive function, their role is limited to 'recommending' works and actual implementation is done by local authorities." The author too generally follows this train of thought, with the caveat that the continuance of MPLADS should be dependent on MPs strictly following guidelines and the relevant authorities conducting transparent regular audits. He gives for and against arguments concisely and leaves it to the reader to delve deeper. This is a well-written book, with one jarring note — the lack of an index, a trend that's all too common with publishers now. Are indexes going out of fashion now? Or are publishers in too much of a hurry. It is unfathomable by what logic an academic study like this doesn’t have an index. Notes at the end of each chapter are no substitute for a comprehensive index which a reader can use for correlation and cross-reference.