The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll purse in clean-up bid

New Delhi, Dec. 22: Dogged by scandal after scandal, the political establishment today launched a clean-up by announcing steps to ensure probity in public life.

The most significant measure was a cabinet decision to give in-principle approval to state funding of elections ' a concept that pops up on the political agenda whenever a corruption scandal spins out of control but is never pursued seriously by parties.

The state-funding proposal aims to tackle the influence of money power in elections, removing one of the perceived reasons that makes politicians dishonest.

The cabinet decided that the proposal should be forwarded to the Election Commission, which is expected to convene a meeting of political parties.

A sense of urgency was added to the state-funding plan after two sting operations jolted Parliament into action.

Hours before the cabinet moved, a Lok Sabha panel recommended the expulsion of MPs linked to the cash-for-questions scandal. In the afternoon, the second scandal ' cash-for-works ' kept politicians busy.

At the end of an all-party meeting, a broad view emerged that the scheme, which allows MPs to fund development projects, should stay but with a fresh set of guidelines aimed at plugging loopholes.

The MPLAD (member of Parliament local area development) scheme has been at the centre of a storm since seven MPs were filmed accepting or demanding money to sanction projects.

The all-party meeting, convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and attended by leaders of all major parties, asked Oscar Fernandes to review it and draw up the new guidelines. The statistics and programme implementation minister oversees the functioning and execution of the MP scheme.

Sources said the BJP representative, V.K. Malhotra, demanded that the allocation be increased “substantially” from Rs 2 crore so that MPs would be “on a par” with MLAs. State legislators also get Rs 2 crore but since a parliamentary constituency can have several Assembly seats, the cumulative allocation for the MLAs will be much more than that of a single MP.

Malhotra’s argument ran counter to the line advocated by his leader, L.K. Advani, who had mooted the idea of scrapping the scheme last week. Advani wanted each MP’s allocation to be used for state funding of elections.

However, at a dinner hosted by Chatterjee last night, the Congress representatives and Advani expressed doubts on doing away with the scheme.

The CPM, Samajwadi Party and the RJD were for abandoning the scheme while the Congress, the CPI and the BJP favoured its retention.

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