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Delhi funds lie idle as Mamata seeks cash

Calcutta, May 22: The Mamata Banerjee government has failed to spend almost 30 per cent of the central funds allotted under several agriculture schemes in 2011-12, passing up the opportunity to help lakhs of farmers and facing cuts in future grants.

The revelation comes in the middle of a blitz by the Mamata Banerjee government to highlight its achievements. The uncomfortable statistics emerged during a closed-door assessment of agriculture and allied departments by the chief minister this afternoon.

“The chief minister was very angry when she learnt about the performance of the agriculture department,” said a senior official who attended the meeting.

The failure to spend the money could undermine Mamata’s bargaining power with Delhi at a time she has cited the development plank to convince the Centre about the need for a three-year moratorium on payment of interest on past borrowings and repayment of a part of the principal.

Around Rs 850 crore was released in the last financial year under the schemes, according to data available with the agriculture department. Of this, Rs 250 crore, or 29.41 per cent, remained unspent.

The schemes included Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI), Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana (RKVY), National Food Security Mission (NFSM), Macro Management in Agriculture (MMA) and Integrated Scheme on Pulses (ISP).

The government could have provided subsidies on good-quality seeds, agricultural machinery and conducted training programmes for farmers with the unspent money.

Now, the Centre will deduct the unspent amount from next year’s allocation, adversely affecting farmers reeling from rising input costs. “The Centre may cite the statistics to embarrass the chief minister, who is complaining about lack of funds for development,” said an officer.

According to him, the CPM may use the funds data in the run-up to next year’s panchayat polls as the Left parties are planning a campaign revolving on farmer distress.

Aware of the possible fallout, Mamata reportedly came down heavily on agriculture minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya and department secretary Hridayesh Mohan, telling them she wouldn’t tolerate poor performance. “It’s true we could not utilise 100 per cent of the central funds…We have to take steps so that this is not repeated. We will regularly hold meetings this year to review our performance,” said Bhattacharya.

Another official pointed to “problems in the system”. “Failure to use funds has always been a problem in Bengal because of inefficiency and poor work culture. The new government is yet to change that legacy.”

The official blamed lack of manpower in the department for not preparing the list of the schemes’ beneficiaries. For instance, the posts of agricultural development officers are lying vacant in over 50 blocks. “The government was busy creating jobs in other sectors… Had it paid some attention to the agriculture department, the situation would have been better.”