In June, M Sridhar Acharyulu of the Central Information Commission (CIC) asked Lok Sabha MP Narendra Singh Tomar to disclose all the details of public works that he recommended over four years to the district administration of Gwalior (his constituency). The order was in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request asking for details of works recommended by Tomar, how far they have progressed and other information. Neither Tomar, who is also a Union cabinet minister, his staff, nor the district administration have responded to the order.
HuffPost Indiahas found that Tomar did not disclose how he spent over Rs 11 crore of his Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds over three years. HuffPost India spoke to Acharyulu about his reasoning behind the order and what the next move can be, since Tomar has not responded.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
This is a rare order from the CIC in which an elected MP, who is also a cabinet minister, has been asked to disclose information based on an RTI application. What was your rationale behind the decision?
Personally, I think every MP holds an office which was created by the Constitution. His/her election is done by a process prescribed under Representation of People's Act. So, it is an authority coming into existence by virtue of a law passed by Parliament. And also by the Constitution. The group of MPs together can change the shape of a law. So in my personal view, MP should be accountable as a public authority. But there is a judgement of the Central Information Commission division bench in 2009 which says that an individual MP cannot be considered as a public authority because he is not a body with authority. Ok, we have to follow that. But what I did in this case is... this is a case of MPLADS-related information. The information has to be given by the public authority which is spending money. So who is (the) public authority? Here, the government of India gives Rs 5 crore per annum as quota for each MP for development works in his constituency. People can ask (for) allocation of funds from Rs 5 crore. He can allocate. This part is totally in the discretion of the MP. Once the MP recommends, it will be taken up by the district nodal authority. The district nodal authority does it in accordance with the norms prescribed, clearances are required and they will have to follow the law. Then amount will be released in instalments by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. That will be used. Utilisation certificate has to be submitted by the district nodal authority (and) the ministry will release another instalment. The MP does not know the progress of the work which he recommended, but he knows which work he recommended and which he did not. What this man (the RTI applicant) asked was: how many works (were) accepted/rejected, what is the progress of the work, why is there a delay etc. When I went into the details of the case, I discovered that (information about) just one area is to be given by the MP. That area is: how many (proposals) have you have accepted (recommended to the district authority after accepting proposals from people) and rejected? At least he should give that. I did not hold him as public authority but I asked him to give this information, because he is holding it. In a limited way, only to the extent of MPLADS, not declaring him as public authority, I have asked him to give this information. It is only a kind of recommendation. I asked them (the ministry) to give complete information to the people, constituency-wise, work-wise and MP-wise.
If MPs are not public authorities, which are obliged to give information under law, why do you deem it necessary for them to share information with people under RTI?
An MP is not a public authority and in this order I'm not declaring him as one. But I strongly recommend that every MP, in his website, he should disclose: what applications (about public projects under MPLADS) he has considered; what he rejected; why he rejected. Whether I am a voter or not, I can ask for some developmental activity because you are my representative. If you want to reject my application for any reason, do it, but give me that reason. MPLADS programme should have within it a condition that those who are sanctioning or rejecting (public works in parliamentary constituencies) should give reasons. And that information should be available on the website. Suppose (the) MP cannot do it, you do it. MPLADS department can do it. Nodal agency can do it. My point is every constituency's voters should know how the Rs 5 crore was spent. It is in his interest he can proudly claim that I have spent Rs 5 crore in the constituency. In this year, I did this, did that for my own people.
MPLADS programme should have within it a condition that those who are sanctioning or rejecting (public works in parliamentary constituencies) should give reasons
As far as transparency under RTI is concerned, how does it make elected MPs accountable to people through this mechanism?
Five crore makes (them accountable). Five crore x five years=Rs 25 crore. Suppose one MP doesn't spend even a single rupee. Government will not release that money because he has not recommended any work. But not recommending any work in a parliamentary constituency is deprivation of people of Rs 5 crore a year. A small well could have been dug, a small panchayat office could have been constructed or a room in the school... underutilisation is also a crime.
So, going forward, what happens to your recommendation? The MP has not responded.
I just gave a recommendation. I don't know how to direct a MP who is not a public authority. An MP is a privileged personality. I do not want to interfere with his privileges. I have due respect for MPs. Let him have his own privileges. But if he has information about the MPLADS in his constituency, he should give. If he doesn't give I can't do anything. Appellant should follow up. I want parliamentary party to be responsible for MPLADS. Because parliamentary party is a body of MPs, which is a public authority. Let parliamentary party of every political party take up the cause of transparency and have their own website and tell year-wise details of the work and their progress MP-wise and constituency-wise.