The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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National leprosy elimination programme: leprosy remains a major public health problem in India, and West Bengal is one of the six major endemic states in the country. The national leprosy elimination programme was launched in the state in 1955 with the financial assistance of the government of India. To eliminate leprosy, initially dapsone monotherapy was used. With the introduction of short course effective treatment by multi-drug therapy and as recommended by the World Health Organization, MDT was started in the state in 1982 first in Purulia district as a pilot project. The highly affected districts in the state were Purulia, Coochbehar, Bankura, South Dinajpur and Birbhum. All the districts, however, were brought under MDT coverage in 1996 with the object to eliminate leprosy, reducing the case load to less than 1 per 10,000 population by the end of the year 2000.

The programme was to be implemented through the State Leprosy Society and District Leprosy Societies formed under the chairmanship of the principal secretary, health and family welfare and district magistrates, respectively. Approximately, 10 non-governmental organizations were also engaged under the NLEP.

Finance: the state government received a grant of Rs 5.66 crore from the government of India for maintenance of vertical units created during 1996-97 to 2000-2001. The entire GOI grant of Rs 5.66 crore was spent on pay and allowances of the staff of the units created during 1994-95 in violation of GOI orders as the units created prior to 1996-97 were to be maintained by the state government. As the funds provided by GOI was spent on salaries, and so on, no unit/infrastructure was created during 1996-2001.

All the 18 District Leprosy Societies received cash assistance directly from the GOI for certain components like incentives, health education, maintenance of vehicles, and so on irrespective of the plan period during 1996-97 to 2000-2001. Information regarding the actual amount received on this score by the DLSs was not available with the state government. However, cash assistance received during the period by 4 test-checked districts is detailed below:

Under the National Leprosy Elimination Programme for two modified leprosy elimination campaigns, district societies received (1998-2000) Rs 6.64 crore from the GOI. Details of expenditure incurred, however, were not furnished to audit.

Scrutiny of audited statement of accounts of District Leprosy Societies of four test-checked districts for the relevant period revealed the following irregularities:

District Leprosy Society, Uttar Dinajpur, incurred expenditure of Rs 46.36 lakh on medicine, health education, petrol oil and lubricants, office expenses, furniture, and so on, during 1996-2001 in excess of the limit fixed by the GOI.

DLS, Purulia, made payment of Rs 6.83 lakh to the Leprosy Mission, Purulia, an NGO, on the basis of bills preferred by them towards Reconstructive Surgency and supply of footwear of Group II deformity patients without verification of any basic records like reference from different LCUs under DLS, Purulia, rendering the expenditure doubtful.

DLS, Bankura, kept the fund in bank current accounts unlike other DLSs which kept it in the savings accounts. Thus DLS, Bankura, lost interest of about Rs 4 lakh for the period from 1996-97 to 2000-2001.

The ex-member secretary of the DLS was involved in defalcation of Rs 10.49 lakh from the DLS, Hooghly, in February 2000. The amount was shown as expenditure and booked under suspense head. The case is sub judice.

TO be concluded

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