It’s interesting to note how bad ideas develop a life of their own and become worse ideas over time. In the process, we lose sight of the original sin. Exhibit A is the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), where every member of parliament is given Rs 5 crore every year to get work done in his constituency at the expense of the exchequer. In other words, the taxpayer pays to help an MP to endear himself to his voters. This is essentially undemocratic, since elected MPs get to spend government money to get themselves re-elected, and it is a wonder why no loser has ever challenged the scheme in courts.
The simple answer, of course, must be that MPLADS is legalised corruption paid for by the taxpayer – and no politician – even those who lost an election - wants to challenge it since it benefits their whole biradari.
Since politicians are good at copying bad ideas to their advantage, MPLADS soon had its mirror schemes in states, called the MLA Local Area Development Scheme. Young Akhilesh Yadav, the 38-year-old Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, raised a storm of protest on Tuesday when he allowed MLAs to buy cars costing upto Rs 20 lakh from MLA funds.
The Samajwadi CM, whose party’s symbol is the cycle, was all reason and the milk of human kindness while giving reasons for this munificence: “This will help MLAs who do not have money to buy vehicles,” the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.
His holier-than-thou political rivals decided to play killjoys on cars. (Wonder if their MLAs are amused). Hukum Singh, leader of the BJP legislature party in UP, announced grandly that “BJP MLAs have decided not to purchase cars with the MLA fund. People will doubt the integrity of an MLA using public money for personal convenience.” Ho-hum.
BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya also indicated his party’s saintly intentions, saying his MLAs will “not purchase cars with public money”. Hmm…
Congress leaders also reiterated their sack-cloth-and-ashes holiness in similar terms.
So is Akhilesh the villain of the piece?
Interestingly, the whole business of giving MLAs more money for their local area funds was the primary motivation for sanctioning the Rs 20 lakh for buying cars.
In this, Congress, BJP and BSP leaders were more or less unanimous. In fact, Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, even while being squeamish about Akhilesh’s Rs 20 lakh car idea, was busy pleading for more outlays on the MLA Local Development Scheme.
This is what got Akhilesh to oblige, when he announced that the fund size per MLA would be raised from Rs 1.25 crore to Rs 1.5 crore per year – and out of the increase MLAs could buy cars. His logic, which masked his real intention of keeping legislators happy, was this: “Several MLAs cannot afford a vehicle. They can use the fund. The vehicle’s value would depreciate each year and after five years an MLA can deposit the depreciated amount and buy it or hand it over.”
Akhilesh was thus giving his MLAs the corporate equivalent of a loan to buy a car, which, when depreciated, can be bought at the written down value by the MLA.