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Damning report

The CAG report on State finces tabled in the Assam Assembly does not make pretty reading, even though the present State government is anxious to take some credit for spending 70.49 per cent of the total budgetary allocation during 2017-18, said to be a record. But fincial practices and expenditure patterns leave much to be desired, with the CAG report rapping government departments for expenditure “uuthorized, irregular and against the spirit of fincial regulations”. Under Article 205 of the Constitution, if there is any excess expenditure over the fund granted or appropriated, the government should get it regularized by the legislature. But the CAG has detected such uuthorized expenditure by Assam government to the tune of Rs 10,004.29 crore. The report has therefore called for fixing responsibility and discouraging such practice. But this is just one kind of practice that is undesirable but goes on regularly in utter violation of budget manual rules. Another ucceptable practice is the ‘March closing’ practice, the mad rush to incur expenditure in the closing month of the fincial year. As per Treasury rules, this practice should be avoided, but it has become a regular fixture which shows a sinister method to this madness. The CAG prescribes uniform pace of expenditure to ensure sound fincial magement, but there were no surprises when it found that in case of 21 major heads under 20 grants, the departments concerned incurred a total expenditure of Rs 5,999.14 crore last fiscal — of which over 65 percent was incurred in the month of March alone. The usually somnolent Animal Husbandry department too scrambled to incur expenditure over 80 percent, which compares with figures of over 96 percent for Industries and 100 percent for Urban Development, in five major cases the CAG examined. As for non-submission of utilization certificates (UCs), it is the same old story. In a 15-year period from 2001-02 to 2016-17,  over 11,641 UCs totalling Rs 24,907.26 crore grants involving 53 departments are still pending. Among these, there are 19 departments that have failed to submit UCs of grants released in 2001-02 fiscal. “Non-submission of utilisation certificates is fraught with the risk of misappropriation. Thus, a monitoring system should also be evolved by the respective departments so that expeditious submission of UCs by the recipients is ensured,” the CAG report says. Criticising the Assam government for not making efforts to ensure submission of UCs by respective departments within the prescribed time frame, the report states that “audit could not ascertain whether the recipients had utilised the grants for the purpose for which those were given”. Because Assam government departments could not furnish certificates detailing how Central funds were spent under various schemes — obviously because the monies were mostly misappropriated — the Centre held back subsequent instalments. Clearly, the present State government will have to undertake drastic overhaul of this opaque leaking system if it has to get the Centre release more funds. For far too long, people of Assam have had to miss out on development because a section of politicians and bureaucrats made merry on public money with impunity.  

 
Sorry washout 
The budget session of Parliament ended on Friday last with both Houses adjourned sine die. While the previous session was marked by appreciable legislative work, this session was mostly washed out with hardly any business conducted. Lok Sabha spent just 1 percent while Rajya Sabha spent only 6 percent of allotted time on legislative business, according to PRS legislative research figures. Total 250 hours were wasted during the budget session consisting of 30 sittings; the time lost due to disruptions was 127 hours and 45 minutes for Lok Sabha and over 121 hours for Rajya Sabha. In all, Lok Sabha functioned 34 hours and 5 minutes and the Rajya Sabha just a little over 44 hours. It has been estimated that the government spent Rs 3.2 lakhs per minute of running the Parliament session, which included the salaries and perks of elected representatives and staff. Seeking to seize the moral high ground, NDA MPs have decided not to take salary for the days wasted. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister has squarely blamed Opposition Congress for this “crimil wastage” of taxpayer’s money. But other parties too saw it fit to disrupt proceedings, like TDP and YSR Congress demanding special status for Andhra Pradesh and seeking a no-confidence motion against the NDA government over the issue, the AIADMK protesting the Centre’s “failure” to form the Cauvery Magement Board, and the Congress, BSP and SP protesting the Supreme Court’s order “diluting” the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The upshot of all these disruptions was that several key legislations have been left pending for the next session. Unless the MPs introspect over this wastage, there will be more public calls in future that the “no work, no pay” principle should apply to them as rigorously as it does to lesser mortals.

About the author

Ankur Kalita