At 66, if India still struggles to provide safe drinking water and uninterrupted power supply to its people, then our parliamentarians too must share the blame. That’s because our members of parliament give high priority to infrastructure projects such as building of roads, pathways and bridges, which sort of become symbols of or advertise their efforts and contributions in constituencies.
The startling revelations have come from a Zee Research Group study of Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) annual reports from 2006 to 2011. In last five years while MPs have on an average spent 32.03 per cent on roads, pathways and bridges, only 10.48 per cent (average) and 3.5 per cent (average) has been sanctioned for drinking water and electricity facility respectively from the MPLAD funds.
In 2006, while 11.75 per cent of the MPLAD fund was utilised for drinking water, it declined further to seven per cent in 2011. Likewise, the already meagre share of funds used for electricity which stood at 3.04 per cent in 2006 declined to three per cent in 2011. In contrast, the funds allocated under road, pathways and bridges registered a near 10 per cent increase from 28.75 per cent in 2006 to 38 per cent in 2011.
Experts have different take on parliamentarians focusing more on rural infrastructure over basic amenities like water and electricity.
Dr M S Gill, who served as the chief election commissioner of India and minister in the United Progressive Alliance in various capacities took a pro-parliamentarian stand on the issue. Himself a Rajya Sabha MP, Gill made the case for letting MPs decide and set their own priorities. More importantly, he believes the scheme has to be used for constituency needs.
“A state is different from other so it would be wrong to look at these figures in a national perspective. For example Punjab and Haryana had provided electricity to all cities and villages many years ago, now why MPs from the region are required to spend on electricity from their fund?” he stressed.
A contrarian view was taken by Pankaj Prasoon, director at the Centre for Indian Political Research and Analysis (CIPRA), who couldn’t hide his shock and dismay over lower MPLAD spending on water and electricity. He instead urged parliamentarians of all hues to reset priorities.
“It is shocking that despite acute power and water crisis in the country our lawmakers are not spending their funds on them. MPs have their own agendas and priorities but it should also sync with nation’s priority”, said Prasoon.
According to the MPLADS website, drinking water facility means funds for distilling of ponds, piped drinking water supply, tube wells, water tanks et al. Moreover, electricity facility involved funds for project for lighting of public places, projects of govt. agencies for improvement of electricity distribution infrastructure et al.
The roads, pathways and bridges have special schemes for funds for construction of footpaths, level crossing at unmanned railway crossing, construction of roads, approach roads, link roads, pathways and construction of culverts and bridges et al.
Prasoon at CIPRA also reasoned that since all these subjects do not come directly under central government under the constitution of India, MPs are not spending much of their funds for the purpose. He also stressed on making MPs accountable for utilisation of MPLAD funds.
Gill, however, doesn’t favour accountability of politicians. “It is for the MP to decide where he should use the fund. Being an MP he is morally bound to spend the fund properly as per the requirement of the constituency”, he added.