In difficult times of resource crunch if some important development needs remain unmet then this can be understood, but what about a situation when funds have been sanctioned and allocated but despite clear and crying need for utilization of these funds, these remain unspent and ultimately lapse.
It is this big failure that is becoming a big debating point in Haryana now. The controversy is fueled further by the fact that the extent to which funds have lapsed is exceptionally high.
When it was reported that about 37 per cent of the development funds released under the district plan by the state government for the year 2021-22 have lapsed due to non-utilization, there was astonishment and shock regarding how this could happen when so many important development needs of people remain unmet.
While there is hardly any doubt that this is a big failure, one explanation that is being held out rather weakly is that the gram panchayats are not functional as the elected panchayats had completed their five year term quite a long time back in January 2021.
However this means that the responsibility of officials till the new panchayats take over was even higher and they basically failed badly to fulfill this responsibility.
What is more, serious questions arise as to why the state government has not fulfilled its constitutional obligation of holding panchayat elections for such a long time.
There have been several reports from time to time regarding important unmet development needs of the state several of which could have been specifically met by the lapsed district plan funds.
To give one example school buildings are covered by these funds and the poor condition of several school buildings has been often reported from Haryana. In fact in the course of the hearing of a PIL before the High Court recently the chairperson of the Parents Teachers Association advocate Ashok Agarwal informed the court on the basis of a survey of several schools that the building was in very poor shape, to the extent of being hazardous but due to lack of any alternative in some schools classes were being held even in such high-risk rooms. In addition a shortage of classrooms has been reported. Much could have been to remedy this state of affairs by proper utilization of funds.
Another important work that can be taken up under these funds relates to link roads and paths. Poor conditions relating to these have been often reported. In fact in September 2018 it was reported that most of the complaints on CM Window (in fact as many as 10,000 out of a total of 22,000 complaints) related to roads. This is another area that could have benefited from proper utilization of lapsed funds. Another related issue is that of drainage, including rural drainage. As a result of poor drainage as well as other factors, waterlogging has been becoming a bigger problem in several villages and damaging crops as well.
Health infrastructure and public health are also covered by these funds and it is really shocking that funds which could have been utilized for this were allowed to lapse even at the time of a pandemic.
Clearly there was no lack of urgent development work, really needed work for which more development funds were required but unfortunately even already sanctioned development funds were not utilized and allowed to lapse.
This overall failure for the entire state appears to be all the more shocking when we see that within the same conditions prevailing in the state in the district of Jhajjar as much as 99 per cent of this sanctioned and allocated fund was utilized. Then why was the utilization so low in several other districts, even to the extent of just around 10 per cent in Rewari. One would have expected that at least in the most backward district of Nuh special efforts will be made to have high utilization but even here the utilization has been poor despite attention having been drawn repeatedly to the poor condition of education and schools here as well as other unmet needs.
Rough estimates indicate that at a budget of about Rs. 20 lakh each, about 750 projects could have been financed from the lapsed funds, a big loss to the people which could have been easily avoided.
One can only hope that due remedial action will be taken so that such administrative failures resulting in denial of much required development needs of people are not repeated in future. Meanwhile, as elections to several urban self-government units of decentralization have also been delayed, questions have started being raised whether urban development funds for these areas may always suffer a somewhat similar fate.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.