Shillong, June 17: Mesmerising Meghalaya — the punchline to build the state’s image as a tourism destination — could well require an alteration. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), for one, is not at all impressed by what Meghalaya has been doing in the tourism sector.
In the report for the year ending March 31, 2013, which was tabled in the Assembly yesterday, the CAG observed that it was unlikely for the tourism department to tout Meghalaya as a preferred tourist destination in the near future.
Among others, accumulation of unutilised funds from 2008-09 to 2012-13, running into crores of rupees, and delay in completion of projects have been cited in the report.
According to the report, the tourism department/directorate receives funds from the Centre, state government, North Eastern Council (NEC) and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) for implementation of various development activities. The audit findings reveal that huge amount of funds were parked in the current account of the directorate of tourism (since August 2009). Besides, there were also huge unspent balance in the savings bank account of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation Limited (see chart).
During the period 2008-09 to 2012-13, the unspent balance showed an increasing trend from Rs 29.66 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 63.22 crore in 2012-13, an increase of 113 per cent, the report stated.
“This represents over 53 per cent of the total funds received by the department during these years. The main reason for huge accumulation of unutilised funds was attributable to delay in completion of projects in time, which indicates serious capacity constraint of the department to execute projects at a desired pace,” the report said.
The total unutilised amount was more than the state’s annual budget provision for tourism, the report said. “In this backdrop, it is unlikely for the department to position Meghalaya as a preferred tourist destination by taking advantage of its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty as envisaged in the State Tourism Policy, 2011 in the near future,” the report observed.
Delay in project completion: Of the 49 projects reviewed in the audit, 27 were funded by the Centre through the tourism ministry (20), Finance Commission (one), NEC (two) and Nabard (four) while 22 projects were funded by the Meghalaya government.
Of the 27 centrally funded projects, four were ongoing and scheduled to be completed beyond August 2013 while the remaining 23 projects were to be completed by August 2013.
The report pointed out that of the 23 projects, one was executed by the state PWD, and was completed within the stipulated date of completion set by the funding agency. Six projects were completed with delays ranging from 30 to 75 months while 16 projects were ongoing with delays ranging from five to 44 months.
The CAG observed delays in acquiring land for implementation of 14 out of 27 projects despite the state government ensuring the availability of land at the time of submitting project proposals to the tourism ministry.
These delays made the Centre decide in December 2011 not to release funds to the state government. Consequently, the state government could not obtain sanctions for fresh projects prioritised for 2011-12 to 2012-13 in respect of 12 infrastructure projects amounting to Rs. 67.82 crore.
Of the 22 projects funded by the Meghalaya government, 10 were completed while 12 were ongoing as of August 2013, without any scheduled date of completion set by the government. In January 2014, the government stated that delay in completion of projects was due to non-availability of suitable government /private land at places of tourist interest, remoteness of the locations, short working season and lack of skilled manpower.
It further stated that land availability certificate was given while submitting proposals because land acquisition process takes a minimum of one year for completion because of which no proposals could be submitted to the tourism ministry within the stipulated time. “The reply indicates that wrong information was given to the ministry with the intention to get the funds,” the CAG report added.