Can Parliamentarians play a meaningful role in their constituencies’ development?
By Devika Malik
The primary responsibilities of Members of Parliament in India are legislative and representative. While there is no provision in the constitution that outlines the specific roles and responsibilities of MPs in India, constituency development is seen as a logical extension of an MP’s mandate. In this piece, I discuss the avenues available to lawmakers to work with and conduct oversight of the executive in the development of the constituencies that elect them to the legislature, and the resources that can be used to evaluate effectiveness in this area.
The Developmental role of legislators can broadly be categorised in the functional areas of a) infrastructure development b) monitoring and review c) representation in local administrative bodies and d) catalysing schemes of the state and central governments.
A. Infrastructure Development
While infrastructure development is largely carried out by the state and central governments under various schemes and budgetary allocations, MPs are allotted Rs 5 crore annually to allocate funds to capital works projects in infrastructure development, public health, sanitation, and water. The Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation that administers the scheme has laid down narrowly defined areas permissible for allocating MPALDs projects as per constituents’ needs. Once a work is sanctioned, the district collector coordinates with the implementing agency to get the project completed within 1 year. The Ministry recommends that projects should be implemented by government agencies, but in some cases allows NGOs to execute projects.
While the annual MPLADs fund represents less that 1% of a district’s total development budget, if used innovatively, it can have a transformational effect on the lives of constituents. Often, the funds can be utilized to augment Central share and State share for the implementation of a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. They can also be used to extend reach to those outside coverage net. For example, drinking water projects. Tube wells are often sanctioned under MPLADs to extend supply to smaller villages in rural areas.
These funds can also be used to facilitate Investment and create basic infrastructure for skill development. These can take the form of vocational training centers like sewing centers. Recently, a cabinet Minister allocated a portion of her MPLADs funds to a start-up incubation centre to encourage the start-up ecosystem in the area. Such initiatives have large positive externalities for the economic development of the district. Additionally, MPLADs are often used to provide for unmet demand in health, education and even sports infrastructure.
Over the years, there has been rigorous evaluation of the MPALDs scheme and there have been several calls to reform it mostly on account of a majority of funds left unspent as well as cases of misappropriation. Since there is large variance in the way that MPs allocate their MPLADS funds, it is an effective variable in assessing the performance of a legislator viz. his/her role in the constituency.
Data for 2014-15 shows that not a single rupee was spent in 278 constituencies (51 per cent). Of these, 223 MPs did not recommend any amount. Considering that MPs have a recommendatory role in the scheme, it is surprising to see that 41 per cent of them haven’t even recommended any amount for their constituency. In the remaining 55 constituencies, the MP recommended works but no money was spent by the district authority. (Source: MoSPI)
B. Monitoring and review
MPs can exercise legitimate political authority in a constituency to conduct formal and informal reviews of the district administration. A lesser-known mechanism through which MPs can conduct such oversight is through the District Development and coordination Monitoring committees (also called DISHA committees). Set up by the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India, DISHA committees are intended to facilitate better coordination among the elected representatives of Parliament, state legislatures and local government bodies like Panchayats. The senior-most MP from a district serves as the chairperson of the committee.
The committee’s task is to closely review the flow of funds, including the funds allocated and released by both Centre and State, utilisation and unspent balances under each of the Central Government’s 28 schemes, ensure that all programmes are implemented in accordance with prescribed guidelines, look into complaints/alleged irregularities received with respect to the implementation of programmes, including complaints of wrong selection of beneficiaries, misappropriation/ diversion of funds and recommend follow-up action.
It is incumbent upon the District administration to make the proceedings of quarterly DISHA meetings available for review. Details of meetings, including attendance and agenda, are to be uploaded on the Ministry’s portal. MPs also conduct frequent informal reviews of public works projects like reviews with chief engineers, inspection of facilities and follow-up of investments with state and central ministers.
C. Representation in local bodies
The Legislature of a state may provide for the representation of an MP at the intermediate and District level Panchayats (Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad). Similarly, the state legislature may provide for the representation of MPs in municipal bodies within the constituency. An MP’s engagement in these bodies can be an instructive measure of their participation in the actual development of the constituency. For example, Delhi MPs are nominated members of the Municipal Corporation (MCD) and NDMC but media reports suggest that not one has attended a meeting in the last 20 years.
D. Catalysing government schemes
MPs can also work towards catalysing State and Central Government schemes in their constituencies. This is possible by proactive engagement with public officials at the Central and State levels. As elected representatives, they also have legitimate political authority to engage directly with the private/corporate sector for industrial development of their constituencies.
Devika Malik is a Public Policy and Communications consultant with close to a decade of experience working in research, advocacy and journalism. She has developed cross-functional insights by working directly with Members of Parliament and at think tanks like PRS Legislative Research as well as the Economist Intelligence Unit. She has also worked on Parliamentary Development with the United Nations.