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GTA boycott boomerangs

- Targeted official rescinds cash power
Gurung (left) and Saumitra Mohan in Darjeeling. File picture

Darjeeling, Feb. 19: A cash squeeze is staring at development projects in Darjeeling as a senior officer boycotted by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has withdrawn financial powers he had delegated to an official of the council running the hills.

Saumitra Mohan, the principal secretary to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, has rescinded his order that authorised the GTA executive director (finance) to sign cheques.

The withdrawal of the order by Mohan, who is also the Darjeeling district magistrate, means cheques cannot be cleared unless signed by the principal secretary. But the GTA Sabha had passed a resolution not to consult the principal secretary on any matter related to the authority.

Morcha leader and GTA chief executive Bimal Gurung yesterday issued an order directing the principal secretary to maintain status quo on the earlier financial arrangement. “The order has been issued,” Roshan Giri, a Sabha executive member, confirmed.

But sources said only bills essential for day-to-day running were being cleared till this evening. No fresh cheque had been issued in the past few days for development work, the sources added. Mohan declined to take any questions on the matter.

The Morcha-affiliated Janmukti Asthai Karmachari Sangthan (JAKS) has since February 7 not allowed Mohan to enter his office at the GTA headquarters at Lal Khoti.

Days after Mohan was stopped from entering his office, he withdrew the financial powers delegated to the GTA executive director (finance).

The GTA Sabha members are not sending any files to Mohan’s office because of their non-co-operation resolution.

Administrative sources said Mohan withdrew the powers he had delegated as he did not want to be held responsible in case of any problem in the financial affairs of the GTA.

“The GTA has only one drawing and disbursing officer and that is the principal secretary. This power has been conferred on him by the office of the auditor-general. Even though the principal secretary had earlier delegated the (financial) power to the finance executive director, he would still be aware of payments being made as files would have to be approved by him,” an official said. “The earlier arrangement was to ensure smooth functioning of the GTA if the principal secretary was out of station.”

As Mohan has not been allowed to enter his office, he was not comfortable delegating financial powers to someone else without knowing about the payments being made. “After all, the AG’s office will hold him responsible later,” the official said.

Sources said Mohan, who works out of the district collectorate office, was now clearing routine files such as electricity bills, transport bills and expenditure required for the day-to-day running of the GTA. “However, non-routine files, such as those for development work to be undertaken by various departments, are not being sent to the principal secretary by the GTA executive members because of the resolution adopted by the GTA Sabha,” a source said.

Some officials in the hills justified Gurung’s order to restore the financial powers. “Since the delegation of the power was done by the principal secretary in consultation with the GTA chief executive (Bimal Gurung), the withdrawal of the power should also have been done in consultation with Gurung, and not unilaterally,” an official said.

Other officials said only the Calcutta-based auditor-general’s office can change the drawing and disbursing officer. “Any problem the GTA faces has to be routed to the auditor-general’s office through the state finance department,” an official said.

The impasse has started hampering development work. “The GTA makes payments at various stages of a project. This has come to a halt. It needs to be seen for how long the executing agencies (contractors) can carry on with construction without receiving payments,” an official said.

The GTA had initiated projects costing almost Rs 200 crore, primarily in tourism but also in health.