The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal leaders laggards in spending

New Delhi, Aug. 24: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be happy to learn Mamata Banerjee lies at the bottom of the list.

But, then again, so does Bengal ó bringing up the rear on yet another count: use of funds under the MPsí local area development scheme.

ďHave money, will not spendĒ is a mantra Bengal MPs on either side of the political divide are chanting, pulling the state with their collective might down to the bottom of the non-spending pile.

The money is given to MPs to be spent on development in their own constituencies.

Close to Rs 250 crore, since the scheme started 10 years ago at the initiative of then Speaker Shivraj Patil, remains unused in Bengal out of a total of Rs 800 crore released.

Under the scheme, an MP can recommend work to the district collector for local electrification, construction of roads, school buildings and libraries and drinking water supply. Once the proposal is cleared, the money is released to the collector.

Against the national-level utilisation average of 78 per cent, the record of Bengal MPs is 68 per cent, the worst in the country, barring Jammu and Kashmir, which is exceptional because of its acute militancy problem.

Among the Lok Sabha MPs, seven of the 10 with the poorest utilisation record are from Bengal with Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee heading the list of the worst. Given the present state of their relationship, Mamata may not be too happy to find party colleague Sudip Bandopadhyay among the top 10 spenders.

The CPM leader in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, who has a better utilisation record than many of his party colleagues, does figure in the top 10, but weighs in only at the bottom of the list. His 71.1 per cent utilisation level is better than that of the state, but is still below the national average.

It seems like a disease that cuts across political parties as well as the two Houses of Parliament. Rajya Sabha members fare no better, with some of the veterans like the CPMís Nilotpal Basu and Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress using well under 60 per cent of the funds.

If you thought newcomers would be any different, think again. Their record, in fact, gives respectability to that of Mamata. Tarini Kanta Roy (CPM) has spent under 5 per cent of the Rs 4 crore released to him in the last two years.

When the scheme started, the allocation for each MP was Rs 1 crore a year and was doubled on persistent demands from MPs. Though itís hard to recall what the Bengal MPsí stand at the time was, no on ever opposes higher allocation.

The quota may be up for review again ó some are asking for a raise to Rs 3 crore and some to Rs 5 crore. Maybe, this time, Bengal MPs will say they donít need the extra cash.

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