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Six-fold funds hike

The public works department (PWD) has secured a six-fold increase in central grants to maintain and develop national highways at a time several Bengal government departments are crying hoarse about the “step-motherly” attitude of the Centre in terms of releasing funds for projects in the state. A senior state government official said: “It is a pleasant surprise that the PWD has got a 600 per cent hike in central grants in the ongoing financial year to repair and develop national highways maintained by it. This could change the age-old story of poor roads in Bengal.” According to officials at Nabanna, the PWD has got projects worth Rs 1,272.59 crore sanctioned from the Union ministry of roads, transport and highways in the 2013-14 financial year. In the past, the state used to get Rs 200 crore to Rs 250 crore annually. Pranesh Sarkar tries to find out what made the difference and how the other departments can learn from the steps taken by the PWD.

TIMELY DPRS

Senior PWD officials said submission of detailed project reports (DPRs) was the key factor behind the PWD’s success in getting all projects sanctioned.

The PWD had submitted DPRs for the majority of its projects by May-June2013-14. As scrutiny and other procedures follow the submission of DPRs, the project reports shouldideally be submitted within the first three months of a financial year.

A Bengal-cadre IAS officer who retired as the secretary of an important ministry recently said if DPRs were submitted within the first three months, funds could be allotted by the end of the second quarter or in the beginning of the third quarter of a financial year.

“The majority of the states follow this process. Bengal usually submits most of its DPRs in November. If DPRs are submitted in November, funds can usually be released in the last quarter. But by that time, Delhi disburses the major portion of the funds to other states,” he said.

He added as other states, which secure funds in the first three quarters, try to get their balance amount in the last quarter, Bengal is often not made fresh allotments because the Centre always gives priority to ongoing projects.

PROPER FOLLOW-UP

The PWD has kept one officer of the rank of assistant engineer posted in Delhi for the past three-four months to follow up the projects submitted to the Union ministry.

“The engineer visited the ministry every day to follow up the projects. He collected all required documents from Nabanna whenever they were sought by the Union ministry and submitted them without delay. He also made minor changes in the DPRs on the spot as and whenrequired by the ministry,” a senior PWD official said.

A senior IAS officer who has spent more than 10 years in various ministries in Delhi said such tactics were adopted by several other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu,

Kerala and Karnataka. “These states get Rs 800 crore to Rs 1,000 crore a year to maintain national highways.”

FUNDS USE

The Centre gives priority to projects where funds are spent on time and utilisation certificates are submitted quickly.

“But Bengal historically lags in this area. As a result, the state often fails to secure timely funds as it cannot float tenders or issue work orders on time despite approval from Delhi,” an official said.

On the other hand, the PWD had issued tenders and work orders for all the projects sanctioned earlier this financial year and that is why it secured more funds in the beginning of the fourth quarter, another official said.

SONS OF SOIL

Senior PWD officials said they could secure such a large amount of funds this year as they were in regular touch with Tuk Tuk Kumar, a 1981-batch IAS officer of the Bengal cadre who is posted as the additional secretary and financial advisor in the Union ministry of roads, transport and highways.

“Every IAS officer has a soft corner for the state to which he or she is attached. They know what to submit and how to submit for securing funds. They are willing to help the state with their expertise if they are involved properly,” said an official.

Officials said the Bengal government had secured more than Rs 2,200 crore to develop health-care facilities in Bengal in 2011-12.

“P.K. Pradhan, a Bengal-cadre IAS who retired as the Union health ministry secretary, had helped the state get funds by submitting proper DPRs,” said an official.

But at present, only a few IAS officers from Bengal are holding senior posts in Delhi. Anil Agarwal, Nandita Chatterjee and Tuk Tuk Kumar are additional secretaries, who can be posted as secretaries by late 2014 or early 2015.

“For having senior officials in Delhi, the state has to release its officers on central deputation on a regular basis. Otherwise, the state will not be able to secure funds for development projects,” an official said.