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Bills in crores follow ‘success’ drumbeat

Calcutta, July 24: The cash-starved state exchequer is staring at an unforeseen expense of around Rs 15 crore as many departments are sending for reimbursements bills on expenses incurred during the Pragati Utsav — a fair held to showcase the “success” of the Mamata Banerjee government in its first year.

A senior finance department officer said the bills had come as a surprise as the departments were supposed to spend from their non-plan funds for the event, held between May 19 and May 26 on the Milan Mela grounds.

Non-plan funds are allotted to departments at the beginning of each financial year for paying employees’ salaries, hiring cars and meeting day-to-day expenditures.

“Around 12 departments have already sent their bills to us. They range between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh. If all 60 departments send bills like this, we will have to shell out around Rs 15 crore,” a finance department official said.

According to him, the sudden requests to reimburse the bills has landed the finance department in a spot as there was no budgetary provision to release funds for the fair.

The officials are clueless about the reasons for the demand for reimbursement as it had been decided from the beginning that money won’t be spent centrally for the fair, they said.

“The finance department is already struggling to manage daily expenses. Now if the other departments seek funds for the fair, it would be tough for us to arrange for the money because no budgetary allocation was made for this purpose,” the finance department official said.

Despite the situation of the finance department — a common knowledge at Writers’ Buildings — the departments are mounting pressure to get the bills cleared.

“It seems the chief minister has given clearance to all departments to send their bills and there is little the finance department can do now,” the said.

After a preliminary analysis of the bills, the finance department officials have realised that Rs 10 crore would have to be shelled out for setting up and managing stalls at the fair, while another Rs 5 crore would have to be paid for publicity campaigns.

The expenses incurred during the fair have raised eyebrows in the finance department with officials questioning the need for such fiscal profligacy.

“The departments had engaged professional advertising agencies, which escalated the costs. The departments spent as much as they wished and as there was no upper limit for expenditure for setting up stalls. The finance secretary had suggested that there should be a ceiling for spending but it fell on deaf ears. Now, the tax payers’ money will be spent,” the finance department official said.