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How will the Odisha govt spend Rs 16, 000 cr in panchayats in 5 years?

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Sep 11:

The Odisha government targets to spend Rs 16,000 crore in panchayats across the state over the next five years. But not enough thought appears to have gone into outlining how exactly this huge amount is going to be spent in the absence of the necessary systems and personnel in place.

File Pic: A house being constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana
File Pic: A house being constructed under the Indira Awas Yojana

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Thursday wrote to sarpanches of 6,209 panchayats informing them that Rs 16,000 crore will be spent in the next five years to foster rapid economic growth and social justice in the villages on the basis of the recommendations of the Fourth State Finance Commission and the 14th Finance Commission .

From the current fiscal, funds will be provided to panchayats on the basis of population, the Chief Minister told the sarpanches. These funds will be utilized especially for providing drinking water, sanitation, health, plantation of trees, construction of water bodies, improvement of crematoriums, provision of street lights and other infrastructure building activities. The Chief Minister has emphasized on creation of permanent assets that will help panchyats to generate additional revenue.

While the Chief Minister’s thrust is unexceptionable, what has raised eyebrows is there is no clarity on how his government intends to spend Rs 16,000 crore in all panchayats over the next five years when it is unable to utilize funds allocated under schemes like Indira Awas Yojana and Mo Kudia Yojana. The required number of personnel to spend this massive amount are simply not there. Panchayati Raj Minister Arun Sahu himself has admitted that 12 blocks don’t have block development officers (BDOs) while 114 assistant block development officer (ABDO) posts, 24 SDPO posts and 619 junior engineer posts are lying vacant in the state for quite some time.

Under such circumstances, it’s quite natural that the Chief Minister’s sincerity in writing letters to 6,209 sarpanches will be questioned. The state government was aware of the fact at least six months back that ample funds will be spent at the panchayat level for which it doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure or the required manpower. In spite of it there was zero preparation by the government. The available employees are in no position to spend these funds.

The Panchayati Raj system in the state is in a critical state. Already five months of the current fiscal have elapsed by now. But leave alone new projects, the government is still engaged in construction of houses sanctioned under Indira Awas and Mo Kudia schemes last fiscal. Moreover, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has failed to have much of an effect in the state. The result of the scheme in the state is not encouraging in creating permanent infrastructure of improved standards as compared to other states. From project supervision to gram sabhas, everything has raised questions.

Neither there are the required number of employees nor enough experienced persons at the block administration or in the panchayats to prepare plans at the panchayat level to spend such huge amount of funds. This is what has raised deep concerns. There has been no panchayat-wise survey ever on how to develop the financial status of people.

ow could it be ascertained which schemes need to be implemented in the panchayat for development and progress in the absence of proper surveys, economists have questioned.