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Time to do away with MLA Scheme for a free and fair election

By H H Mohrmen

The rupees two crore a year allotted to each MLA under the Member Legislative Assembly Local Area Development Scheme (MLA-LADS) is one of the issues which has been a subject of debate for quite some time now. The question people ask is not only how the MLAs utilise or rather misuse the funds, but whether there is any need of providing each MLA two crore rupees a year? Considering that there are already hoards of schemes, programs and projects for the development of the state and the welfare of the people, what is the need of providing another two crore rupees a year which more often than not goes to the wrong  hands.

Despite the fact that out of sixty MLAs, information of how the fund was utilized was sought from very few members, yet many skeletons started falling from the cupboard. Right to Information (RTI) findings which were made public recently informed that the MLA has outsourced the spending of almost his entire funds under the MLA LADs from a single firm. Unlike many ordinary business units which many a time deal with some specific products only, this particular firm looks like it deals with everything under the sun. It supplied plastics chairs, computers and also sands, boulders and cement for construction under this fund.

MLAs treat this particular scheme like a private fund from their personal coffers which they can expend at their own whims and fancies.  For some MLAs it looks like managing the MLA LAD scheme is the only job they have as the members of the August house because one has never heard them discuss about the status of healthcare or education in the State or even the condition of the roads in their constituencies, not to mention the whole State, other than how and what they will do with the MLA scheme.

MLAs cannot think of ways to spend the money than to provide physical relief to the voters like giving  them utensils, pots and pans and supplying them CGI sheets and at the community level to provide funds for construction of community halls, additional classrooms in the school and improvement of village play ground. 

There is no denying the fact that individuals and the community come with a long list of demands that they wish the MLA to ultimately address. Also each MLA has hundreds of villages to cater to, so the question is how does the MLA decide which of the projects to fund. The point is there is no mechanism used to rank the needs of the people because even the list of demands of the community are decided by the executive community of the Dorbar Shnong.  The MLA seldom uses the opportunity to start grass roots engagement with the people. They rely on the headman and the village council only. That is the only grass root level engagement they have.    

The utilisation of the MLA LAD scheme also lacks the basic aspects of monitoring except through RTI application, but the sad truth is very few people choose to file RTI on the utilisation of the scheme. It is true that the utilisation of the funds has to be channelled through the Deputy Commissioner’s and the Block Development Office but the question is can these officers raise any question on how the funds are being used or misused by the local representative?  

Perhaps it is not wrong to say that the MLA LADs is the root cause of money changing hands during election because the MLAs themselves purposely chose to hand doles from the scheme at the fag-end of their tenure as the local representative of the area. It is as clear as daylight  that the intention is obviously to bribe people to re-elect them as the MLAs of the area.

The influence of money power during election also started raising its ugly head only since MLA LAD was introduced in the State. Elders in the community till now reminiscence the first few elections after independence when supporters brought stuffs like rice, vegetables etc to the candidates residence so that he can feed party workers who work for his/her success. Candidates those days did not have to spend money because it is the supporters who donate all that the candidate needs for the election. But now the voters are waiting for their own share of money from the candidate or sometimes from many candidates.

It is the candidates themselves who had ushered the kind of election that we have now where a poor man, no matter how good a leader he is or how articulate he is and how visionary he is, does not stand a chance to win because he does not have money.

The other pertinent question is how and where will the MLAs use the funds from the LAD when we already have schemes, programs and projects funded by the State and the central government for development and the welfare of the people? The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is the mother of all schemes where communities come up with ideas to develop their villages and even for improvement of their livelihoods. If the community needs a footpath, a playground, improvement of drainage system and what have you, they can avail funds for the same from MNREGS. They only need to have an active Village Employment Council which can complete the works in time and demand more work from the office of the BDO after completion of the previous project.

MNREGS is not only meant to help create assets for the community or the village, but it can also be used for creating livelihood opportunities for the people in the villages. The problem with the implementation of MNREGS is the zest and vitality of the VEC or to be specific the secretary VEC. We have communities which can complete projects worth a crore of rupees in one financial year just because they have a secretary who is very active. The truth is villages have developed and changed now not because they have a good MLA or MDC but because they have a very active VEC. Therefore it is not the MLA LAD scheme which helps bring change and development to the village, but the MNREGS and the important thing is that it is a bottoms-up approach where the community comes up with their own ideas and they don’t have to wait for the consent of the MLA or MDC to do the work. 

MLA LAD scheme also encourages corruption in the sense that it is a duplication of the many programs, schemes and project for rural development and livelihood promotion in the village. This duplication of work benefits only the supporters of the MLA or the MDC because there is no proper mechanism to monitor the flow of funds.  

The most startling development is when we read media reports that the cabinet is yet to sit and decided on the remaining MLA LAD scheme for the assembly tenure ending 2018. The very fact that the cabinet is yet to decide on the remaining MLA LADS in spite of the fact that we are already in the mid  November raises a lot of questions about how the MLAs wish to use this  fund.

In two months time the state is going to the polls again so how can we expect the MLAs to do justice to the remaining of their allotted MLA scheme in this short span of time? How can the MLAs dispose two crore rupees of public money in two months?  How else will they spend the money if not for buying votes when the fund is purposely allotted at the end of the tenure of the House? I hope the governor will do something on this, otherwise the claim that we are going to have a fair election will not hold water because the huge sum of money in the hands of the current MLAs will help influence the voters to vote for them.   

This development also vindicates the claim that we all along made that MLA LAD is redundant because the MLAs are only using it for their vested interest.  It is about time that we do away with the MLA scheme because more often than not, the scheme is misused.  

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