Any work done at the eleventh hour is usually slipshod and of poor quality. But come March every year and the various departments of Assam government act in a manner that flies in the face of this common wisdom. There is a mad rush to spend sanctioned government funds by 31 March when the fincial year ends. A disapproving Comptroller and Auditor General has criticised Dispur several times for this ‘March end’ syndrome which makes a mockery of the principles of prudent fincial magement. But State government departments refuse to change their ways, because therein lies the scope for corrupt officialdom to make big money by underhand means. The Fince Accounts 2013-14 report by the CAG shows that government departments spent a whopping Rs 1,07,77.98 crore at March end in that fincial year. In the all-important day of 31 March, as much as Rs 1,906.31 crore was drawn. The CAG in its report has referred to relevant sections of Assam Treasury Rules, which advise uniform pace of expenditure. Then why the scramble to spend in the closing month of the fincial year? Is it due to irresponsibility and poor work culture whereby government functiories wake up at the last moment to finish all pending fincial work by March end? In fact, the concerned government officials know very well what they are doing; they are using a tried and tested stratagem to line their own pockets. This involves operating just before a deadline with parties that have much to lose if the deadline is missed. For the first six months after the State budget is tabled in the Assembly, there is no communication from the Fince department to the other departments. Then work proposals and schemes are drawn up which take around three months, with things going back and forth between Fince department and Planning & Development department. The tendering process only begins sometimes around February next year.
In March, the Fince department hurriedly begins to approve schemes and proposals. The scope for irregularities correspondingly increases as March end nears. A great hubbub begins as treasuries across the State work round the clock, ignoring Sundays and holidays. The scene at the Assam Secretariat and Dispur Treasury in particular, is chaotic beyond belief. Fince officials sit with the files to clear ceilings (FOC)s as hordes of contractors and middlemen jostle to deposit their bills and cheques in time at the treasury. This is a very anxious time for contractors who have already paid commissions at various tables in fixed percentages, beginning from the file ‘put up’ stage. If officials of the Fince department and other departments work regularly, contractors can mage to get their ceilings cleared in time. But this the concerned officials will not do; so hefty bribes have to be forked out to get the needful done. But if the ceiling is cleared near 31 March, pray how will the department spend the money in the 3-4 days remaining? No wonder that departments hardly mage to spend around 60 per cent of their total budget allocations. This great bazaar of ‘March end’ continues year after year, deaf to CAG advisories or stern directives by the Chief Minister. For this bazaar lines the pockets of everyone concerned, down from the ministers and bureaucrats to the lowly officials and peons. As to the quantity and quality of work done for which the money is released by this ‘March end’ process, the lesser said the better. It is the public that suffers, with its voice drowned in the din of this bazaar. Unless governments at the Centre and the States drastically overhaul this system to bring it in line with transparent, accountable practices throughout the year, the ‘March end’ syndrome will continue to bedevil our public finces.