GUWAHATI: For a section of departments in Assam, purchase of materials is a means of minting ill-gotten money. Such departments have earned notoriety for purchasing materials more than that required, buying at rates far higher than the prevailing market rates. This is compounded by the messy distribution of materials after their procurement. This practice was at its worst during the past Congress regime at Dispur. However, signs of improvement are yet to be seen despite a new formation led by the BJP taking over the reins of power.
Examples galore. During the 2015-16 fiscal, the Department of Char Area Development gave an order to 218 SHGs (self-help groups) through tendering for the supply of huller mills (husking machines) at a total cost of Rs 307 crore. In sheer negligence at their own convenience, the purchase committee formed by the department fixed the rate of the huller mill brand without verifying its market rate. The committee fixed the rate at Rs 40,000 per huller machine against the market rate of Rs 1.41 lakh – Rs 1 lakh higher than the actual cost per machine. That dealt a body blow to the State exchequer.
In 2015, the Social Welfare Department purchased sewing machines for 42,711 beneficiaries. The purchase committee fixed the rate of each sewing machine at Rs 9,000 against the market rate of Rs 6,300 at that time. That led to a loss of Rs 1.13 crore to the department.
During the 2014-15 fiscal, the PHE Department purchased 2,317 spectrophotometer kits for testing arsenic contamination in water. In that case too, the purchase committee fixed the rate at 40-329 per cent higher than the market rate, leading to an excess expenditure of Rs 3.98 crore.
Such purchase committees comprise the departments’ own officials from technical, finance and administrative sections. What is striking is that at their own convenience a section of such purchase committees do not go for any rate survey in the market of materials to be purchased. Such purchase committees, it seems, are more concerned about the profit margins of suppliers rather than that of the target beneficiaries.
Is there then a nexus that drains out crores of money from the State exchequer?
In its reports, the CAG has also made mention of such rampant and irregular purchases – be it of agricultural machines, bicycles, medicated mosquito nets or PVC pipes – thus playing havoc with the State exchequer.
What is even more startling is that the departments concerned do not fix responsibility for such gross negligence even when such anomalies are mentioned time and again by the CAG in its successive reports.
Is a thorough streamlining not in order as far as the system of purchase committee fixing rates of materials of various departments is concerned?