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Cash plan for panchayats before polls

Calcutta, Jan. 29: The state government has found a way to give liberty to gram panchayats to spend according to their requirements ahead of the rural polls, a move that could help Trinamul strengthen its support base.

The panchayat department will take a loan of Rs 1,000 crore from World Bank under the Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayat project to give Rs 1 crore each to 1,000 gram panchayats for development projects.

“The importance of the project cannot be overemphasised. But the timing of it makes it clear that the government is trying to reap political dividends ahead of the rural polls,” a senior state government official said.

The cash will allow the gram panchayats to spend on development projects as 80 per cent of the funds can be used according to the panchayats’ priorities.

“For example, if a gram panchayat is given Rs 1 crore, it can use Rs 80 lakh for development projects while the remaining Rs 20 lakh will have to be spent on capacity building and training of employees,” an official said.

Senior Writers’ officials said the state had taken the initiative considering the “reality” that the majority of the schemes run by the panchayats were centrally sponsored and project-specific.

“Every panchayat has some problems that cannot be solved with the existing projects. The state wants to allow the panchayats to get over such problems, such as renovation of water sources, on its own with the loan,” an official said.

The previous Left Front government had given Rs 1 crore each to 1,000 gram panchayats under the same scheme ahead of the 2011 Assembly polls.

With the identification of another 1,000 panchayats, 2,000 of the state’s 3,351 rural bodies will get the funds.

“World Bank has appreciated our efforts to implement the project properly with the loan it had provided earlier. We have decided to request it to give us another loan of Rs 1,000 crore,” panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee said.

But the World Bank loan will push up the debt burden of the state, pegged at around Rs 2.3 lakh crore.

“The loan will be part of the Rs 22,281 crore borrowing limit set for the state government at the beginning of the year. The state has already exhausted around 80 per cent of itů If it takes the loan this fiscal, it will lose out on the opportunity to tap the market to tackle its fiscal woes,” an official said.