Bhim Singh Versus Union of India & Ors
Petitioners had filed the writ petitions challenging the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADScheme) as ultra vires of the Constitution of India. They also prayed for direction from Supreme Court for scrapping of the MPLAD Scheme and for impartial investigation for the misuse of the funds allocated in the Scheme.
The following questions arose for consideration before the Supreme Court :-
- Whether the scheme is not valid as a grant under Article 282 of the Constitution of India? Whether Article 275 is the only source for a regular and permanent scheme and whether Article 282 is intended to apply only in regard to special, temporary or adhoc schemes?
- Whether having regard to Article 266(3) of the Constitution, apart from an appropriation by an Appropriation Act, an independent substantive enactment is required for the MPLAD Scheme instead of mere executive guidelines?
- Whether the MPLAD Scheme falls under clauses (b), (bb) and (c) of Article 280 (3) of the Constitution, and exercise of such powers of the Finance Commission by Planning Commission make the Scheme unconstitutional?
- Whether the Scheme obliterates the demarcation between the legislature and the executive by making MPs virtual members of the executive without any accountability?
- Whether the MPLAD scheme is inconsistent with Part IX and Part IX-A of the Constitution by encroaching upon the powers and functions of elected bodies?
- Whether the MPLAD Scheme, even if it is otherwise constitutional is liable to be quashed for want of adequate safeguards, checks and balances?
- Whether the MPLAD Scheme gives an unfair advantage to the MPs in contesting elections by violating the provisions of the Constitution?
The Supreme Court held that the Union or the State is empowered to spend money from the Consolidated Fund strictly in accordance with the relevant provisions.
In other words, if Union of India intends to spend money from the Consolidated Fund of India, it shall be submitted in the form of demands for grants and only after approval by the Parliament, the same are to be spent for various Schemes. Article 246(1) makes it clear that Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List I in the Seventh Schedule (Union List). Sub-clause (2) of the said Article gives power to Parliament to make laws with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List III in the Seventh Schedule (Concurrent List). As per sub-clause (3) of the said Article, subject to clauses (1) and (2), the Legislature of any State has exclusive power to make laws for such State or any part thereof with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List II in the Seventh Schedule (State List).
After analyzing the abovementioned Articles and the Rules of Procedure, the argument that the Appropriation Act by itself is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of Article 266(3) cannot be accepted. It is true that the activity of spending monies on various projects has to be separately provided by a law. However, if Union Government intend to spend money for public purpose and for implementing various welfare schemes, the same are permitted by presenting an Appropriation Bill which is a Money Bill and by laying the same before the Houses of
Parliament and after getting the approval of the Parliament, Lok Sabha, in particular, it becomes law and there cannot be any impediment in implementing the same so long as the Scheme is for the public purpose.
Court also held that no independent enactment is required to be passed. Neither Government of India nor any State takes away the rights of anyone or going to set up any business or creating any monopoly for itself nor acquiring any property. It is only implementing a Scheme for the welfare of the people with the sanction and approval of the Parliament. That Article 282 can be the source of power for emergent transfer of funds, like the MPLAD Scheme. Even otherwise, the MPLAD Scheme is voted upon and sanctioned by the Parliament every year as a Scheme for community development. The Scheme of the Constitution of India is that the power of the Union or State Legislature is not limited to the legislative powers to incur expenditure only in respect of powers conferred upon it under the Seventh Schedule, but it can incur expenditure on any purpose not included within its legislative powers. However, the said purpose must be ‘public purpose’. Judicial interference is permissible when the action of the government is unconstitutional and not when such action is not wise or that the extent of expenditure is not for the good of the State. Thus all such questions must be debated and decided in the legislature and not in court.
Accountability under MPLADS: The issue raised by the petitioners that under the guise of the Scheme there is arbitrary and malafide use of powers by MPs in allocating the work and using the funds does not hold good as there are three levels of accountability which emerge from a study of the working of the Scheme, (1) the accountability within the Parliament, (2) the Guidelines, and (3) the steps taken which are recorded in the Annual Reports. It furthere held that there was no violation of concept of separation of powers. The Court further held that there was no rigid separation of powers under the Constitution and each one of the arms at times perform other functions as well. The Member of Parliament is ultimately responsible to Parliament for his action as an MP even under the Scheme. All Members of Parliament be it a Member of Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha or a nominated Member of Parliament are only seeking to advance public interest and public purpose and it is quite logical for the Member of Parliament to carry out developmental activities to the constituencies they represent.
Whether MPLADS leads to unfair advantage of sitting MPs as against their rivals :MPLADS makes funds available to sitting MPs for developmental work. If the MP utilizes the funds properly, it would result in his better performance. If that leads to people voting for the incumbent candidate, it certainly does not violate any principle of free and fair elections. MPs are permitted to recommend specific kinds of works for the welfare of the people, i.e. which relate to development and building of durable community assets. These works are to be conducted after approval of relevant authorities. In such circumstances, it cannot be claimed that these works amount to an unfair advantage or corrupt practices within the meaning of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951.
The following were the final conclusion of the judgment:
1) Owing to the quasi-federal nature of the Constitution and the specific wording of Article 282, both the Union and the State have the power to make grants for a purpose irrespective of whether the subject matter of the purpose falls in the Seventh Schedule provided that the purpose is “public purpose” within the meaning of the Constitution.
2) The Scheme falls within the meaning of “public purpose” aiming for the fulfillment of the development and welfare of the State as reflected in the Directive Principles of State Policy.
3) Both Articles 275 and 282 are sources of spending funds/monies under the Constitution. Article 282 is normally meant for special, temporary or ad hoc schemes. However, the matter of expenditure for a “public purpose”, is subject to fulfillment of the constitutional requirements. The power under Article 282 to sanction grant is not restricted.
4) “Laws mentioned in Article 282 would also include Appropriation Acts. A specific or special law need not be enacted by the Parliament to resort to the provision. Thus, the MPLAD Scheme is valid as Appropriation Acts have been duly passed year after year.
5) Indian Constitution does not recognize strict separation of powers. The constitutional principle of separation of powers will only be violated if an essential function of one branch is taken over by another branch, leading to a removal of checks and balances.
6) Even though MPs have been given a seemingly executive function, their role is limited to ‘recommending’ works and actual implementation is done by the local authorities.There is no removal of checks and balances since these are duly provided and have to be strictly adhered to by the guidelines of the Scheme and the Parliament. Therefore, the Scheme does not violate separation of powers.
7) Panchayat Raj Institutions, Municipal as well as local bodies have also not been denuded of their role or jurisdiction by the Scheme as due place has been accorded to them by the guidelines, in the implementation of the Scheme.
8) The court can strike down a law or scheme only on the basis of its vires or unconstitutionality but not on the basis of its viability. When a regime of accountability is available within the Scheme, it is not proper for the Court to strike it down, unless it violates any constitutional principle.
9) In the present Scheme, an accountability regime has been provided. Efforts must be made to make the regime more robust, but in its current form, cannot be struck down as unconstitutional.
10) The Scheme does not result in an unfair advantage to the sitting Members of Parliament and does not amount to a corrupt practice.