The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Prodigal with poverty

Calcutta, July 18: For a government that professes to exist for the poor, the Left Front is strangely inefficient about implementing welfare schemes.

The report of the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) for the year ended March 2002 says that despite the high incidence of rural poverty in Bengal — with 31.85 per cent of the people living below the poverty line (Planning Commission figures for 1999-2000) — the government failed to use central funds.

It could reach only 1.26 lakh families, against a target of 8.85 lakh, under the Centre-sponsored Swarnajayanti Swarojgar Yojana — a scheme aimed at raising 30 per cent of the families under the poverty line above it by generating a monthly income of Rs 2,000 -— between 1999 and 2002. For its failure to use funds, the state was deprived of central assistance worth Rs 81.69 crore.

Food security for people and fair price for farmers have been long-standing demands of the Left. But instead of meeting the objective of “increasing the quantum of procurement of rice” for distribution among the poor and “ensuring price security to the farmers”, the food and supplies department was busy doling out benefits to millers. The department took over procurement from the Food Corporation.

The CAG report hauls up the department for “extending unwarranted benefit of Rs 21.51 crore to the millers in the form of higher procurement price besides “paying Rs 10.06 crore to the mill-owners as levy collection charges”. The department’s inability to produce necessary documents to claim subsidy from the Centre put an “interest burden of Rs 24.29 crore” on the state.

According to the report, universalisation of the elementary education programme by providing free textbooks to students in Class I to V has not been properly implemented. “For 1997-2000 sessions, 2.31 crore books were short-printed.” In the 2000-2002 academic years, excess books were printed but still schools did not receive the full set.

The basis of assessment of requirement of books was not available with the primary education directorate, which led to both short and excess printing. Simply put, the government does not know how many students are studying in government and aided schools.

With food and education, the government was also found wanting in building roads. While hauling up the public works (roads) department, the CAG report says: “There were cases of diversion of Rs 14.85 crore from capital to revenue account.” This means the money that should have been used to create assets was spent to meet some immediate need.

The report mentions that the government does not respond to audit report. Over 1,000 inspection reports sought by the CAG from various departments to probe financial irregularities worth over Rs 500 crore have remained unanswered.

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