The Telegraph
Thursday , January 9 , 2014
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Jairam for axe on MP funds

New Delhi, Jan. 8: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh today came out with a fresh proposal to root out black money in politics: abolish the MPLAD scheme and use the money to state-fund elections.

Ramesh also hailed the “simplicity” mantra of the Aam Aadmi Party and said established parties must take lessons from the new entrant.

Ramesh called the VIP security system in the country “ridiculous”. Held up in traffic by the army chief’s security, he described the system as a “state within a state within a state” where there is no accountability.

The minister said he would write to defence minister A.K. Antony, who shuns the security ring, about the military police clearing the routes for service chiefs in the capital.

Ramesh, who does not use a red beacon on his vehicle, said his car was blocked near the army chief’s residence this afternoon by military police when he was on his way to Teen Murti to attend a meeting.

A major reason for black money in politics is the election expenditure, Ramesh said. If the state funds the election campaign, political parties and leaders need not bother about money to meet such expenses.

A committee headed by former CPI leader Indrajit Gupta in 1998 had advocated state funding of elections, he said. “The MPLAD (MP local area development) funds should be abolished. The money should be used for state funding of elections. If it is used for funding elections, it will reduce corruption and black money,” Ramesh told reporters.

Every MP gets Rs 5 crore a year to spend for local area development programmes. However, the scheme suffers from irregularities and misuse of funds. Several MPs are also unable to spend the entitled amount within one year.

In 2013-14, about Rs 4,000 crore will be spent on MPLAD, Ramesh said.

State funding for elections is followed in Germany, he added. Parties that get over five per cent of votes in elections should be eligible for getting funds. Political parties will submit the vouchers of expenses and get the money reimbursed.

However, some Election Commission officials were sceptical of the feasibility of such a proposal.

“This proposal has been discussed and rejected. Even if the state funds the campaign, there is no mechanism to check expenses by individual leaders. So the use of black money may not stop,” an Election Commission official said.

The minister said people want simplicity and austerity. “Politicians should be like anyone else. The AAP is a wake-up call for all political parties…. It has changed the political discourse in the country,” Ramesh said.

However, he sought to differentiate between the Left twins and the AAP, saying the “original parties in terms of simplicity are the CPI and the CPM”. These parties are better than AAP in simplicity, “though their economics is lunatic”.

Ramesh said Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, BJP leader Manohar Parikkar and Congress leader Oommen Chandy also led simple lives. “With all our differences, I am saying Mamata Banerjee’s lifestyle is also simple.”