MPs, careful what you promise, by Yashwant Sinha

Published: April 29, 2014 00:23 IST
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(Yashwant Sinha is a BJP Member of Parliament and a former Union Minister of External Affairs)

Someday soon, I shall write a fat book on my constituency experiences as a Lok Sabha MP but for now I shall confine myself only to one.

This is election season, and every Lok Sabha candidate has his own claim to make about how he or she will make the Ganga of development (Vikas ki Ganga) flow through his or her constituency. Nothing could be more misleading.

Yet, it is this rhetoric which is repeated again and again and creates misunderstanding in the mind of the voter, a misconception about the role of a legislator and finally, the feeling of being let down by the MP. No wonder more than half the MPs are not re-elected.

Election time is the time for voters to register their grievances, confront the candidates with the list of their complaints, of work not done and of everything else which is wrong with their lives.  Bad weather adds to this litany of complaints. Voters are unable to understand the difference between Panchayat, Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha elections. For them, all elections are the same; all candidates fall in the same category and election time is the time to voice their complaints. All of us have failed miserably in educating the people to understand the difference between a local body election and election to the Lok Sabha.

How can a mere MP make the Ganga of development flow though his constituency? The limited fund at his disposal, now raised to Rs.5 crore annually, is too meagre an amount to deal with the problems of the people in a far-flung Lok Sabha constituency. It has some crippling infirmities in its design and its implementation leaves much to be desired. The MP has the choice of doing hundreds of small things or investing the money in one or two big projects. The party workers, for obvious reasons, are interested only in hundreds of small works rather than in big projects. These small works get lost in a large Lok Sabha constituency.

Apart from the fund available to the MP, there are scores of other funds available with the District Collector and the various developmental departments but the final decision with regard to selection of schemes and their execution lies with the Collector or the other officials. What can the MP do? If he or she is very energetic, the parliamentarian can prepare a list of the developmental works and submit it to these officials. But, the law-maker does not have the authority to approve them. He or she has to plead with the official concerned, therefore, to sanction these schemes.

Then there are projects which involve larger amounts which can be sanctioned only by the State Government whether it is a road project, an irrigation project or construction school and college buildings and boundary walls. For these, the MP has to approach the State Government, which if not friendly can put the request in cold storage. Now let me come to the specific example I have in mind.  

In the 2009 election, I visited a village in my constituency situated at the border of Jharkhand and Bihar. The villagers demanded that I should get them electricity. The Damodar Valley Corporation was responsible for the implementation of the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Programme in my constituency. I therefore approached it with this proposal. They told me initially that it was too far away and could only be covered by renewable energy. I was aware that the village would not get electricity under this scheme during my life time. So, I decided to use all my clout to pressure the DVC to take power to the village through the usual method of poles and wires. They agreed. I was happy to notice that work had begun in earnest. Poles were erected and wire was drawn. When the time came to energize the line, the local Ranger of the forest department discovered that the work had been done in a wild life sanctuary without due approval. So, he stopped further work and the line could not be energized. I felt exasperated but there was nothing I could do except to follow the prescribed procedure in such cases.

First, the DVC had to file an application with the forest department for clearing the project with adequate safeguards. Second, after processing by the forest department headed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), the proposal had to be cleared by the Wild Life Board of the State chaired by the Chief Minister.  I spoke to the Chief Minister and repeatedly to the Principal Chief Conservator but it still took many months for the Board to meet and approve the proposal. The local Congress MLA who was a member of the Board immediately claimed credit for getting the proposal approved.

But the story did not end there. I was told by the Principal Chief Conservator that the proposal would now have to go to the Central Wild Life Board for approval. Despite my continuous follow-up of the proposal, it took many months for the minutes of the meeting of the State Wildlife Board to be approved by the Chief Minister. It took many more months for the proposal to reach the Ministry of Environment and Forest in Delhi. It took many months and many calls to the Minister and the Secretary of the ministry for the proposal to be put up before the Central Board.

Finally, after a delay of more than three years, the proposal was approved by the Central Wildlife Board with the stipulation that the wiring should be underground. Further follow up disclosed that this would cost around Rs 3 crore. The approval for this could be given only by a committee headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Power. I then spoke to the DVC people to send the proposal to the Rural Electrification Corporation; spoke repeatedly to the CMD of the REC to send it to the Ministry; spoke a number of the times to the Secretary, Power to get it expedited. I finally gave up when I was told that the proposal would have to go the Supreme Court for final approval.  All my efforts spread over three to four years went in vain to get a simple thing done like electrifying a village.

Subsequently, I was informed that the villagers had themselves connected the electric wire to the sub-station and lit up the village. Once this happened, representatives of all political parties descended on the village to claim credit for electrifying the village. I had no choice but to keep quiet because what was done was clearly illegal and I could not become a party to it.

I can repeat similar experiences ad nauseum.

This is the story of a Member of Lok Sabha who was considered a senior leader and had been the Finance Minister and the Minister for External Affairs of India. So, when ordinary MPs boast that they will make the Ganga of development flow through their constituencies, I only smile at their ignorance or bravado.

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