It is now almost certain that the ‘March ending’ madness will again be visiting Assam government departments this year. At the ongoing Assembly budget session, the government has furnished figures revealing that as much as 55.21 percent of funds allocated in last year’s State budget still remain unspent. For a government promising ground-breaking change, things will thus be pretty much as before so far as maging its finces are concerned. With only one-and-half month for the current fiscal to end, departments will be making that all-too-familiar desperate rush to spend the monies lying in their me. Contractors given the responsibility to execute developmental schemes will be laying siege to Dispur, while officials habituated in capitalising from such mad scramble will be rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation. In his budget speech last year, State Fince Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had announced a phased pattern for spending budget allocation — that the departments will have to spend 20 percent funds in the first 3 months of the fincial year, and thereafter 30 percent, 30 percent and 20 percent in the next 3 quarters. Regular review meetings were promised to ensure such expenditure. In fact, the State budget last year had been brought forward in line with the Central budget to ensure timely and effective spending of government funds before the rains put the skids on all developmental works. But the work culture of not just officials, even entire departments in Assam have remained the same as before. Of the 44.79 percent funds spent so far, most have expectedly gone under the salary & pension head. Only a miniscule part has been spent for developmental works. The Water Resources department should have spent a significant amount on repairing embankments and dykes in the dry season, but has maged to spend a paltry 2.4 percent this fiscal. The Irrigation department — which has failed the State’s farmers for decades by not even covering 10 percent of arable land — has likewise spent a miniscule 1.6 percent on developmental works. In a State importing most of its fish, meat and poultry requirements, and where rearing fish and farm animals can be a major employment generator for lakhs of rural youths — the Veteriry and Animal Husbandry has spent only 1.5 percent of its budget allocation this fincial year. Several other key departments show the same dismal picture, barely getting by with payment of salaries. A blame game has now erupted with some opposition MLAs flaying the Fince department for “sitting for months on end” on files, thereby bringing the developmental works of various departments to a standstill. The tough regulations drawn up by the Fince department are said to be causing the problem. However, this is inevitable in a State where various departments played fast and loose with government monies for decades. Mostly dependent on Central welfare schemes, Dispur has a poor record for submitting utilisation certificates (UCs) of funds spent, causing the Centre to withhold subsequent instalments. If funds from the Centre are not forthcoming and the State is failing to generate adequate resources of its own as well as attract investment, then painful lessons must be learnt fast. Fincial discipline is a must, a transparent system imperative in an era when accountability is the governce mantra. After all, it is also the government that has to shoulder the major burden of pushing growth. The sooner its departments get their acts together, the better.
March Ending Again