Schemes such as SAGY and MPLADS are diversionary in nature.
The government has launched the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). Under this scheme, each Member of Parliament will be responsible for developing the infrastructure of three villages by 2019 and eight by 2024. The guidelines for the scheme indicate that the MP will indentify these villages within their constituencies, spearhead social mobilisation leading to the preparation of a village development plan, mobilise funds, monitor the scheme and sort out issues.
The SAGY is an example of the way MPs are moving away from their core roles as national legislators. Another example is the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) which allows MPs to identify local projects and allocate Rs 5 crore per year. Both these schemes blur the line between the executive and the legislature. They also mix the role of the MP with that of the panchayat member. That is, they break two types of separation of functions: legislature versus executive, and national level versus local level.
Legislature versus Executive
Under the Constitution, the implementation of schemes and programmes is the responsibility of the Executive branch. The role of the Legislature is to oversee the programmes and working of the Executive. Parliament does these roles at the national level and the state legislatures at the state level. Thus, typically schemes are formulated by the executive and need the prior approval of the legislature for any budgetary requirement. The legislature holds the government accountable for implementing the schemes in an effective and efficient manner.
If MPs are directly involved in implementing programmes and schemes, the system of checks and balances comes under pressure. For example, they may find it difficult to question ministers on subjects in which they were party to the implementation.
National versus Local
The Constitution provides three levels of governance: national, state and local. The Union Government is responsible to make and implement policies on topics that fall in the union list. State governments have the mandate to do so on topics in the state list. While both the Union and states have jurisdiction on items in the concurrent list, the task of implementation usually falls on the shoulders of the state government. Village level development is the responsibility of the state government, and can be delegated to the local level bodies such as the gram panchayats and intermediate-level panchayats.
Not only do MPs not have a constitutional mandate for local level development, they do not have the authority to ensure proper implementation. This is on account of the structure of the administration. The chain of command for all local government officials go up to the district collector, who is usually in charge of implementing all development schemes in the district. The collector reports to the state government, and is not accountable to either the MP or the Union government. The panchayati raj institutions also have a geographical relationship with this structure, with the gram panchayat, the intermediate panchayat and the zilla parishad at the village, taluk and district levels. However, parliamentary constituencies are not congruent with administrative districts, and different parts of a constituency usually fall in two or three districts. This means that the MP will have to coordinate with two or three district collectors to get the schemes implemented.
The role of the MP
We have argued that MPs are not best placed to plan and implement schemes at the local level. Indeed, this task diverts their attention from the very important functions that they are expected to fulfil according to the Constitution. They have to make laws, formulate policies, oversee the implementation of laws and policies by the government, make financial resource allocation through the budget process, and hold the government accountable for spending the funds for the intended purposes.
It is easy to see how schemes such as SAGY and MPLADS distract them from their main roles. The SAGY asks each MP to develop three villages in the next five years, and five more in the subsequent five years. That is, eight model villages will be developed in the next 10 years in each Lok Sabha constituency. Rajya Sabha members will also develop eight villages each, so the number of model villages would average 12 per Lok Sabha constituency. This is barely a drop in the ocean, given that India has over 600,000 villages, i.e., over 1000 villages on average per Lok Sabha constituency. Instead, MPs would be more effective if they focus on devising broad strategies and devolve the task of detailed design and implementation to state governments and local authorities.
The MPLADS too has a diversionary effect. The total amount available to each Lok Sabha MP is Rs 5 crore, i.e., about Rs 2700 crore per year for all Lok Sabha MPs. The size of the Union Budget is about 17 lakh crore. A key role of Lok Sabha MPs is to examine, debate and pass the Union Budget to ensure that funds are allocated effectively for national development. Given that there is public and media attention on MPLADS, the focus of MPs shifts away from allocating Rs 17 lakh crore towards allocating Rs 5 crore.
Instead of asking MPs to focus on schemes such as SAGY and MPLADS, we need to look at ways to make them more effective in their core roles. Given the complexity of policy and law making and financial issues, research support must be provided at both institutional and individual levels. Parliament must meet more often than the 70 days it meets every year (the average was over 125 days in the 1950s). Parliamentary committees also need to be strengthened. The anti-defection law needs to be revisited to encourage free debate. These steps will help MPs to effectively perform their constitutional mandate. MP should heed a wise saying: you can’t solve all of the world’s problems; leave some to others. They can leave local development to the local level bodies.